BOSTON — Milan Lucic knows what it’s like to break into the NHL as a tough player who occasionally uses his fists as a way to send a message and make a name. The Bruins forward now also knows what it’s like to be a first-line player on one of the league’s best teams.
And he continues to find out how difficult it can be to find a balance between those things.
The 25-year-old is in the middle of a very strong bounce-back season. One year after struggling through a lockout-shortened campaign, Lucic can set a new career high in points if he’s able to pick up five over the team’s final four games.
Lucic’s offensive production comes during a season in which his penalty minutes are down considerably. He has racked up “only” 87 PIMs, just 12 more than he had last season — when there were just 48 games on the Bruins’ schedule.
Lucic’s fight total, though, is right near his career average. According to HockeyFights.com, Lucic has dropped the gloves seven times this season. The total came close to becoming eight Saturday afternoon when Lucic challenged Zac Rinaldo, but the Flyers’ goon declined.
Lucic still welcomes the challenge, whoever it comes from, at least as he deems the situation worthy of accepting the fight. That was evident when Lucic dropped the mitts with AHL journeyman Joel Rechlicz during an exhibition game against the Washington Capitals. It also was apparent when Lucic took on Edmonton Oilers heavyweight Luke Gazdic in December, a fight Gazdic wanted because he sees Lucic as a “measuring stick” player.
“Obviously when you come into the league, nobody really knows much about you, and you kind of have to prove yourself and make your own reputation,” Lucic said Monday after Bruins practice. “Once that kind of starts and you start playing more in the league and you get older, you have the guys that come into the similar situation you were in, and that’s where it kind of starts.”
The debate on whether or not to drop the gloves requires an even more delicate balance for Lucic. He has played his way into being one of the Bruins’ most important players. He can score goals, he’s on the first power-play unit, and he’s one of the few legitimately intimidating players in the game today. Losing Lucic for an extended period of time could be very costly for Boston.
“At this time of the year, you don’t want to be breaking your hand where you put yourself out for six weeks because you selfishly fight as well,” Lucic admitted.
Just losing a player like Lucic for at least five minutes can be hurtful for the Bruins. If Lucic lets the emotions get the best of him, he puts the team in a tough position, even if that comes with defending himself or his teammates. However, it’s clear the pugilistic potential is a piece of his game that Lucic still values.
“At the end of the day, you just don’t want to play off reputation, right?” Lucic added. “You’ve got to keep proving yourself in that sense as well. There’s not that many first- or second-liners that are willing to fight me. I’m not trying to say that in a cocky way at all, but at the end of the day, it’s just sticking up for yourself or your teammates.”