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Milan Lucic likes Oilers' chances

Forward feeling comfortable in new surroundings, believes in young group

by Tim Campbell @NHLTim / Regional Writer

EDMONTON -- If his contributions of physicality and playmaking hadn't done it yet for his new teammates, Milan Lucic found another way to ingratiate himself with the Edmonton Oilers.

Thanksgiving dinner.

The 28-year-old left wing played host to a team dinner on Sunday to celebrate Canada's Thanksgiving Day, which was Monday.

"Two turkeys, two hams, the Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, all that fun stuff," Lucic said after practice Tuesday at Rogers Place, where the Oilers begin the NHL season against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; SN, SN1, TVA Sports 2). "It was a great way to get all the families, players, kids together. It was a great thing."

Beyond his excitement for the feast, Lucic senses optimism in Edmonton, part of it created by his signing of a seven-year, $42-million dollar contract (average annual value $6 million) as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

"It looks to me like guys are excited for a fresh start, excited for a change," Lucic said. "They're willing to do whatever it takes to come together as a team to get things going in the right direction because there hasn't been a lot of winning around here in the recent past.

"Guys are looking forward to the change."

Change is certainly on the menu in Edmonton.

The Oilers named 19-year-old center Connor McDavid captain after one season in the NHL. Rogers Place, the $483-million arena, serves up its first NHL regular-season game Wednesday.

"It's up to us now as the players to go out there and make the most of it because it's a great opportunity," Lucic said.

In the spacious and horseshoe-shaped Oilers dressing room, Lucic is seated immediately to McDavid's left - also where he'll start the season on the top line.

"It's been great, really great because he's very mature for his age and he definitely deserves to be the captain," Lucic said. "Seeing someone like that, with that much talent, he could be the cockiest guy in the world and rightfully so, but he loves the game and he's a humble kid and you can tell he was brought up right.

"He loves the game for the right reasons. He wants to win. He wants to be there with the (Sidney) Crosbys and (Patrick) Kanes and (Jonathan) Toews, those type of guys, and there's no doubt in my mind he will be. He wants to be more than just an individual and from my standpoint, that's really great to be part of.

"It's been a lot of fun getting to know him over these last couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to getting a chance to start the season with him and seeing what we could accomplish."

McDavid and Lucic (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) will have Jordan Eberle, a six-season NHL veteran, on their right wing.

"For our line, he creates a lot of space with his size," Eberle said of Lucic. "I think he doesn't get credit enough for the plays he makes along the walls and in the O-zone too. He's very good at those little plays, which is important.

"For our team, he's an experienced guy who's won a Cup and he has some experience to give in that way. For a team that didn't really have that before, he's going to be a voice to bring that to us."

Eberle said that Lucic, a Vancouver native, has made it clear to his new teammates how excited he is to be in Edmonton.

"And I think him being a Western Canadian boy, that helps," Eberle said. "I can't really deal from experience because this is the only place I've played, but as a Canadian, there's no place I'd rather play than in Canada. And I think he sees the excitement level with the new rink and the locker room and some of the players we have here, I think it made his decision pretty easy."

Coming to the Oilers, who haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006, Lucic agreed he was taking a leap of faith.

"Seeing the potential in the young guys they had here and when you have this much talent, eventually it's going to change," said Lucic, who had 20 goals and 55 points for the Los Angeles Kings last season. "There were a lot of opportunities for to go in the offseason to a team that was already established, that was ready to win right now.

"When you talk about a leap of faith, I definitely took one in the sense that I see more in the future, being one of those superpower teams that's up in the standings. There's definitely the talent here to do it."

Lucic said he sees similarities to how the Boston Bruins built their Stanley Cup championship in 2011.

"It wasn't the place I chose to go to, but same type of situation, bottom team and there wasn't a lot of winning and they didn't really have an identity," said Lucic, a second-round pick (No. 50) at the 2006 NHL Draft. "Getting to build that and grow with a group and end up achieving the ultimate goal, it makes it that much more special knowing how you did it.

"That's what I see here and there's actually more talent here than when we started in Boston. I think if the guys are willing to put in the work and willing to go in the right direction, we can definitely be a team that's a contender.

"And when you have the talent like you do with your best player, you really have to believe the sky's the limit with everyone buying in and following his lead. For me, you really hope the result is what you've had in the past. That's why I took the leap of faith and came here to Edmonton."

To date, Lucic said Edmonton fans are thrilled with his free-agency decision.

"The fans have been great so far," Lucic said. "What I've really appreciated is how Edmontonians really love Edmonton. They're really proud of their city. The fact that, as you said, I took a leap of faith and decided to come here, they really seem to appreciate that I chose their city, but they're really proud of it. Having that feeling and connection with them already is a really cool thing.

"If we get things going in the right direction, it's going to be a lot of fun from that standpoint."

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