BOSTON — Consider this for a second: When the Bruins’ 2013-14 season begins Thursday, it will mark the beginning of Milan Lucic‘s seventh NHL season.
For some, it may seem like just yesterday that the bruising forward was bursting onto the scene with some pretty lofty expectations from a fan base desperate for the second coming of a player like, say, Cam Neely. While Lucic’s numbers don’t necessarily match up with Neely’s — it was unfair to think they would — he’s certainly carved out quite the niche in his time in Boston.
His evolution as a player is ongoing both on and off the ice. As a 25-year-old veteran of six NHL seasons, that’s what Lucic should be doing. He’s growing not only as a hockey player and a leader but also as a person. Much of that has to do with Lucic’s growing family. He and his wife had their first child, a daughter, in January. That’s changed Lucic’s outlook on life away from the rink.
“This summer, I think that’s where it helped me mature as a person,” he said at Bruins media day on Thursday. “You get your priorities and everything in check. I think that’s what helped motivate me heading into this year.”
That could obviously be good news for the Bruins. Last season was an odd one for Lucic. He struggled out of the gates and really slumped for much of the abbreviated season. That eventually led head coach Claude Julien to sit Lucic for a game in an attempt to send a message. Some wondered if Lucic had properly prepared for the season, and Julien even admitted Lucic reported to camp a little out of shape.
The power forward eventually found his legs, his breath and his game. He posted only 27 points in 46 regular-season games, but he turned it on once the playoffs started. In 22 postseason games, Lucic posted 7-12-19 totals on his way to becoming one of the most dominant players in the game’s second season. He was also arguably the best player on the ice and played a pivotal role in the Bruins’ third-period comeback during Game 7 against Toronto.
“I think it’s a whole different situation,” Julien said. “Last year when he came in he probably wasn’t in the best shape and it really was a struggle through the regular season but he found his game at the right time.”
Lucic and the Bruins are obviously looking for more consistency this season. But there’s another part of the game that Lucic may be taking a bigger part in. The Bruins have seen some turnover of late, and that can take a toll on a team’s dressing room make-up. Luckily for the B’s, they have a core of young players who aren’t “young” anymore, at least not in the hockey sense. No one will mistake the 25-year-old Lucic for an old man, but he has experience, and he’s been around for quite a while. Now it’s his turn to step and continue to evolve as a leader in the Boston locker room.
“When you lose some veteran leadership, you expect some guys to step up,” Lucic said. “It seems like it’s that time for guys like myself and [David] Krejci and Tuukka [Rask] and guys like that to step up in the leadership role. Growing as a person and maturing as a person, that’s some of the things you have to take on as a teammate. It’s something to look forward to.
“It’s been a learning process over the last couple of years. You learn what it takes to be a good leader and over the last couple of years I’ve been around a lot of great leaders and hopefully I can try to implement and keep that leadership going.”