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This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Before you scroll down to look at the grade and comment, ask yourself: When has Milan Lucic shown he can play much better, more consistently, over the course of an entire season?
I’ve come to the realization that he has plateaued as a player. But he didn’t quite meet his true potential in 2013-14. He was never going to be Cam Neely, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the Bruins’ best left winger in the last decade, or debatably even longer. Over the last 3 full seasons (not including the lockout year) the Number 17 train has been a .758-point-per-game player. But while this year may have been his most consistent season—he went without points in 3+ consecutive games just three times all year—I can’t help but think there’s another level that he hasn’t been able to tap into.
Lucic turned 26 a few weeks after the Bruins' season ended, and is entering the prime of his career. Yet his performance has hit a wall since the 2011 Cup-winning season in which he exploded with 62 points, tied for the team lead, while netting a career-high 30 goals. There wasn’t much more to his game this season that we weren’t witness to two or three years ago.
It may be a case of undervaluing a player because you’ve seen them for years. By the numbers, Lucic is essentially David Backes in a Black & Gold sweater—they're nearly identical. And of the Top 20 Left Wingers in the league based on Points (ranked 11th), Lucic actually had the 2nd best shooting percentage, behind only Chris Kunitz. Think about that. Of the twenty best point-scoring left wingers in the National Hockey League, Milan Lucic is the 2nd best sniper with the puck on his stick. Ahead of Alexander Steen and Taylor Hall. Ahead of Gabriel Landeskog and Patrick Sharp.
While he's not the most productive winger on the team offensively in terms of sheer amount, there was one aspect of his game he clearly improved in 2013-14: His physicality. Lucic had a career-high 240 hits, finishing 9th in the league among all forwards. His registered a hit in 74 of 80 games played, and averaged 4.67 hits per game during the postseason.
He can take over shifts, and make game-changing plays. He can set the tone, he can create momentum. He’s a Top 10 Power Forward in the NHL. So why doesn’t he feel like the force he should? One reason comes to mind. This year, on a team that won the President’s Trophy, a team with two 30-goal scorers, and on a line with David Krejci, who had his best season since ’08-’09, Lucic… stayed the course. He didn’t regress, but he also didn’t improve. The Bruins were the best team in the league during the regular season, but Milan Lucic wasn’t as much of a reason why this year. The team overall got much better. He fell into the middle of the pack.
Milan also suffers against the Western Conference. Lucic had 47 of his 59 points in the 53 games played against Eastern Conference opponents. In his 27 games played against teams out of the West, Lucic was limited to 3 goals and 12 points. That's a difference in points-per-game of -.352, or -44%, which isn't very promising for him if/when the Bruins get back to the Cup Finals.
Speaking of... Looch also didn’t help his cause in the Playoffs. After a solid end to the Detroit series, Lucic disappeared against Montreal. He had 3 points in the first 3 games of the series, but his two assists came in losses, and his one goal of the series was on an empty net. Over the last four games? 0’s across the board. And in the final two home games of the series, he didn’t even register a shot on net. He was too busy trying to "fucking kill" Dale Weise, sack-tapping Alexei Emelin, and missing open nets.
Can Lucic get better going forward? Probably not by much in terms of raw skill—he tallies 60-ish points a year, hovering around the 25 goal mark. But when it comes to determination, effort, and coming through in the clutch, he can return to the level he hit in 2010-11, and again in the 2013 Playoffs when he was an absolute monster. Maybe the results came a little too easily to Lucic this year, but I believe he can have that much more control to his game going forward. If he does, and keeps playing physically like this season, the rest of the league should watch out.