Milan Lucic was always a low maintenance kind of player. When he came up he job was simple, hit everything that moves, and fans loved him for it.
Then he found his goal scoring touch. When you pot 30 goals for the first time in your career and win the Stanley Cup in the same season it becomes a little easier to understand those Cam Neely comparisons.
That makes grading Lucic a little difficult this time around, because do we really know what we have here yet?
Lucic finished the year with 61 points, just one shy of his career high set the previous season. His goal total was down, but only by four. His shooting percentage was pretty much identical but there was a rise in his Corsi number, up to 13.72 compared to his 9.74 the year before. Points-wise he had a successful season, and yet he was still a source of frustration for fans.
This has been the winger's indentdity the past few seasons. When he is on, he's on. Scoring goals, causing havoc, hunting goalies, and de-railing trades. But when he's off, it's as if he didn't even show up to the rink that night. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the playoffs.
Last season he had an excuse to an extent; he was fighting sinus problems and a broken foot. But that still didn't stop him from scoring seven goals that postseason. Against the Capitals he had three assists in seven games.
We've been trying to pinpoint what it is exactly that caused his off year (as far as a 61 point season can be considered "off").
He faces the same criticism David Krejci faces in terms of consistency and yet a majority of fans consider him to be the player you have to hang on to. Why that is can most certainly come down to one thing that sets him apart: his physicality. We've seen him take over games with it and he doesn't even have to score.
And I think that's his gift and his curse.
Lucic seems to be one who can get caught up trying to do too much. He has offensive skill but he's not a playmaker nor have I ever seen him get elevation on a puck any more than once. I think he is best deployed when his instructions are clear: hit something, get in the crease, take a shot if you get one in your spot which is almost always the low left circle.
Keep it simple and Lucic excels, put more responsibility on him and he gets lost trying to do it all. It's that reasoning that makes me think he is the one who was most affected by the loss of Nathan Horton.
To a degree Lucic and Horton are very similar players. Where Horton separates himself is in his shot which is hard, fast, and accurate from a lot of places. Take him out of the equation and suddenly the dynamic is thrown off. With them together along with a playmaker like Krejci they can create room for themselves and power through most defenses. But it was clear the Horton was the trigger man of that line and without him Lucic was left to his own devices.
Luckily, by all reports Horton looks healthy and read to go for the season. As for Lucic, he is hitting the point in his development curve where all he has to worry about now is consistency. Is he a perennial 30 goal scorer? I'm not convinced yet, but he can score he just can't put bunches of games between those scores.
2011-12 Grade: C+