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Rant Sports Top 100 Players in the NHL: No. 86 Milan Lucic

 

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

This year, Milan Lucic had one of his best seasons in terms of production since his days with the junior-level Vancouver Giants, but to the hockey world at large, he may be more well-known known for the incident with Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres. Miller had come far out of his net to play the puck and Lucic collided with him, probably unable to stop on a dime and avoid the collision (228 pounds plus the speed built up while skating on ice plus the ice surface itself equals stopping is not instantaneous). Miller was originally diagnosed with a concussion–that he later downgraded to whiplash–and was out for a few games, plus he called Lucic a “gutless piece of [expletive]” after the game. Lucic didn’t get suspended for it, but the incident did heat up the tension between the Bruins and the Sabres for basically the rest of the season.

Aside from that, though, Lucic put up 26 goals and 35 assists in 81 games (he missed one due to a suspension unrelated to the Miller incident), tacking on 135 penalty minutes too, for his best season in terms of assists and one of his best for goals and points. He’s also had a big summer, even after the Bruins’ first-round playoff exit, by marrying his girlfriend Brittany Carnegie, who is also expecting their first child–a girl–due this winter.

Considering that Lucic quite nearly quit hockey altogether when he was passed over in the 2003 WHL draft, he’s made a big name for himself.

After getting over the draft snubbing, he worked his way into the junior leagues, making a big impression as part of the Vancouver Giants. He went to the 2006 Memorial Cup and was drafted by Boston not long after that. At the time, Bruins brass said they were very lucky he was even still available at 50th overall. Newly-drafted, he spent another season with the Giants, this time hosting and winning the Memorial Cup. He was almost the leading scorer in the tournament and was awarded the Memorial Cup MVP trophy.

Though he was picked to be the Giants’ next captain, he made the Bruins lineup out of the 2007 training camp and went pro instead. He got in a fight in his first NHL game and recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick a week later. These showings just out of the gate led the Bruins to keep him around after the nine-game maximum tryout period for junior-eligible players. In his rookie year, he continued to impress and won the Seventh Player Award for exceeding expectations.

His sophomore season saw him get his first hat trick and win the team’s Eddie Shore Award for hustle and determination. He also returned to Vancouver for the first time since going pro, an event that included a lot of publicity, a baby picture of him in the newspaper and a ceremony to replace his Memorial Cup Ring, which had been stolen from his family’s house.

In 2009-10, he signed a new contract, but missed a lot of play time that season due to injuries. Coach Claude Julien noticed a change in his play when he came back and the Bruins were also eliminated in the playoffs in history-making fashion, dropping four in a row after leading the series three games to none.

But, given time to rest, Lucic bounced back for 2010-11. He put together another hat trick and scored career-highs for goals, assists and points. That led the team in goals and tied for the lead in points with David Krejci. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in his hometown and he was actually given a very warm reception by the Vancouver Canucks home crowd when he paraded the Cup around the rink just after winning. After the victory, he disclosed that he was playing injured throughout the playoffs: he had a broken toe and a sinus infection that was part of a larger issue in his nose and needed offseason surgery to fix.

Like when he had his ring stolen, though, Lucic had another issue with Vancouver when it came to celebrating his day with the Stanley Cup. He’d seen the headlines–posters of him at a community center defaced, a fight sparked by his appearance at a Greek festival, the infamous riots after Game 7–and decided to keep things a little more low-key. It went well at the time, but in February of this year, the church he went to with the Cup was vandalized.

Regardless of the haters, though, Lucic continues to play as an aggressive, heavy-hitting power forward. His line with Krejci and Nathan Horton struggled this season after Horton suffered a concussion in January that ended his season early, however. If Horton is healthy again, though, the top line should hopefully find itself more able to do big things once again. Like help bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston? It’s possible.

Highlight Reel:

http://youtu.be/gOKK3sGd18I

The first game between the Bruins and Sabres following the Miller incident was at the First Niagara Center and boos rained down on Lucic as he took the ice in the first period. Paul Gaustad comes out to avenge the hit, but Lucic takes him down after throwing a few deft punches.

http://youtu.be/HHzvSH7wbR0

The Bruins are about to lose to the Nashville Predators and Tim Thomas is heading to the bench as Rich Peverley tries a shot on goal, it misses but Lucic cleans up the rebound and ties the game late. (The Bruins would win in a shootout.)

http://youtu.be/JWqgizAD4FA

In this October 2008 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lucic checks Mike Van Ryn into the glass so hard that the pane literally shatters. Jack Edwards figures it will be on highlight reels for a decade to come.

Fun Facts:

  • Todd Bertuzzi was one of Lucic’s favorite players while growing up in Vancouver. Both men are power forwards.
  • Lucic has another connection to the Canucks: his uncle on his mother’s side, Dan Kesa, used to play for the Canucks as well as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.
  • Lucic was invited to Team Canada’s summer camp in Calgary for the 2010 Winter Olympics, but he wasn’t picked for the final roster.

 

The Rant Sports Top 100 NHL Players series will examine the top 100 players all across the league. Look for more from the top 100 soon.