Milan Lucic’s stock isn’t where it once was.
He hasn’t been able to play much with his usual playmaking center and hasn’t had as much of an impact in games as he should this season. With five games left on the 2014-15 NHL season, Lucic’s 0.57 points-per-game could end up being his lowest since 2009-10. It might be fair to say that Lucic might want to forget all about this season.
Right? Well, no – not entirely, at least.
Lucic’s 2014-15 season could be remembered as disjointed because his offensive production is down however, he has been a part of one of the brighter spots for the Bruins. The offensive emergence of Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak has given the Bruins a much-needed rejuvenation in the later parts of the season and Lucic has played a crucial role in their success.
Tuesday night’s win against the Florida Panthers was no exception as the trio each had a hand in the team’s game-tying and game-winning goals – Pastrnak tied the game, Lucic scored the game winner, and Spooner got assists on both. It was a two-point night for Lucic, Pastrnak, and Spooner in the Bruins’ 3-2 win. After the game, Claude Julien referred to him as being a leader amongst the rookies and credited Lucic in helping with their development.
“I continue to say that [Lucic] has done a great job with those two young guys,” said Julien. “That line has probably been our most productive line in the month of March and a young line like that has a guy that feels like he wants to lead them and he has done a good job of that. He has kept saying over the years that he wants to be a part of that leadership group and he’s just showing it right now that he’s very capable of doing it.”
That leadership mentality and veteran presence is something that Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has noticed, too.
“He’s such a powerful guy and such a big force out there that he creates a lot of room for Spooner and Pastrnak,” said Chara. “When David Krejci went down, he really needed to step up to hold that line. They used to be together, but that’s when he really stepped up…He was playing with two young guys, but he’s showing the leadership and he’s stepped up his productive side of the game, too.”
It’s a new role for Lucic, who is usually playing with Krejci and the rotating right-wing-du-jour on the Bruins’ top line. In his eight seasons with the Bruins, Lucic really hasn’t had many opportunities to be that mentor for two other rookie linemates with this much upside.
“I’ve never really been in this position where [I’m] the oldest guy,” said Lucic. “Just trying to enjoy it and trying to have fun with it – you see they’re having a lot of fun and just trying to have that youthful fun like I had when I was their age. It’s become contagious between the three of us. You just want to, as an athlete and as a competitor, be able to contribute in any way that you can, and it’s nice to get some results.”
They’ve been contributing, alright. Since Spooner was recalled, he recorded seven goals and ten assists in 19 games. In that same time-frame, Pastrnak has five goals and 12 assists. And Lucic? Seven goals and six assists.
For what has been the Bruins’ most offensively-gifted line in March, it has also been the most consistent pairing that Lucic has played with all season. According to Left Wing Lock, the trio of Lucic, Spooner, and Pastrnak has a frequency rate of 16.2%.
Lucic has stepped up and accepted the veteran role on a line with two players that didn’t start the regular season in Boston. Both Pastrnak and Spooner have expressed that playing with Lucic was a big part of their development and the chemistry that the trio is forming is further proof.
“I’m lucky to have him on my line,” said Spooner. “I know where he’s going to be – he’s going to be in front of the net and I just try to get the puck there for him.”
Though Lucic has seen his minutes dip because Julien is still not matching the trio against opponents’ top lines, the production is still there.
“I’m really happy I can play with a guy like Looch,” said Pastrnak. “He’s trying to help me and I try to pick up as much experience as I can from him. I really appreciate he’s been helping me like that.”
So, maybe this isn’t a lost year for Lucic. He balances out Spooner and Pastrnak well and can be that player who clears space for two much faster, much more offensively skilled players. As a result? Lucic produces. As the line continues to heat up and be a consistent scoring threat when the team needed one badly, Lucic has shown that he can still be of value to the team and be a leader.
“Everything seems to be clicking right now,” said Lucic. “We’re supporting each other well, we’re coming up the ice together well, we’re finding each other, and we’re also getting some puck luck, as well. I think that’s also a big part of it, but you know, when you’re working the right way and putting the work in, you tend to get luck on your side. We’ve just got to keep it going and try not to get things too high and try to stay even keeled and keep contributing to this team’s success.”
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