After an injury-plagued campaign in 2009-10, Milan Lucic faced the pressure of both trying to rebound from a disappointing season and living up to the heightened expectations that accompanied the first year of his lucrative new three-year, $12.25 million deal.
Lucic answered any doubts with a breakthrough season offensively, solidifying his spot as a top-line left wing and raising expectations even higher for next season — but not before he raised the Cup in his hometown of Vancouver last month.
2010-11 stats: 79 games, 30-32-62, plus-28, 121 PIMs
Playoffs: 25 games, 5-7-12, plus-11, 63 PIMs
Contract status: Signed through 2012-13, $4.083 million cap hit
Preseason expectations: After being limited to just 50 games in 2009-10 with a broken finger and a high-ankle sprain, Lucic was being counted upon to stay in the lineup, return to his dominant physical self and chip in more offensively. After never scoring more than 17 goals in a season and coming off a nine-goal campaign, Lucic put added pressure on himself by stating in camp that his goal was to reach 20 goals.
Regular-season evaluation: Lucic reached his self-stated goal before the All-Star break, scoring his 20th goal on Jan. 26 against Florida. He was far from done though, as he tacked on 10 more to finish the season with an even 30. That led the Bruins, while his 62 points tied linemate David Krejci for the team scoring lead. He missed three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury in January, which followed his worst slump of the season when he managed no goals and just one assist in the 11 games before he was sidelined. He bounced back once healthy, putting up 7-3-10 totals in his first 11 games upon his return. Lucic's physical game did slip a bit as his offensive production soared. He still led the team with 167 hits, but that was still his fewest in a full season and nearly 100 fewer than his last full season when he racked up 262 in 2008-09. Even while battling injuries in 2009-10, he maintained a higher pace with 141 hits in 50 games. Lucic also finished just one minute behind Shawn Thornton for the team lead with 121 penalty minutes, but Lucic had half as many fighting majors as Thornton with just seven. Two of those came in the first six games of the season, then he did not have another until February.
Playoff evaluation: For the first time in his young career, Lucic was not able to consistently elevate his game in the postseason. After his best offensive year in the regular season, he struggled to score in the playoffs. He didn't have a goal in the first 10 games, then after scoring twice in Game 4 of the second round to help sweep Philadelphia, he had just three more goals in the final 14 games. Some of that was undoubtedly caused by the injuries he was battling. While he didn't miss a game, Lucic played through a sinus infection in the opening round and a broken toe in the final two rounds. He underwent surgery on his nose after the season. Even with those ailments, he did improve his physical play in the postseason, leading the Bruins with 71 hits and chipping in 17 blocked shots and a 63 penalty minutes. He had 28 of those hits in the Cup Final, contributing greatly to the physical play that was vital to beating the Canucks.
2011-12 outlook: There's no question that Lucic has raised the bar after the huge leap forward he took this past season, more than tripling his goal and point totals from the previous year. The Bruins will be counting on him to deliver big numbers once again, and he should have the opportunity to do so as the top line returns intact with Lucic and Nathan Horton once again flanking crafty playmaker Krejci. With his increased role and importance to the Boston offense, the Bruins can't afford to have Lucic spend too much time in the penalty box. But they still need him to play a physical game, throwing big hits and dropping the gloves when necessary to create room on the ice for himself and his linemates. He plays best when he's emotionally involved and even a bit angry, so the Bruins can't afford to take that physical dimension out of his game.
Monday, July 18: David Krejci
Coming Wednesday, July 20: Nathan Horton