BOSTON -- Before forward Milan Lucic returned to Boston for the first time, on Feb. 9 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, he had the date circled. He had looked forward to it, to coming back to the place that had been his home for eight seasons, where he had won a Stanley Cup and played for another one.
It won't exactly be the same when the Edmonton Oilers face the Boston Bruins on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, NESN, NHL.TV). He will enjoy the return again, will enjoy hearing the roar of the TD Garden crowd, will enjoy seeing the former teammates that remain on the Bruins' roster. But it will have been softened by time, by distances, by the changes to the Bruins in his absence.
"It definitely feels kind of weird," Lucic said. "It feels like forever since I've been here. As it goes on, it's just a part of the road trip. … It's a little different [than the first time] just because you know what to expect as a visitor, but still it's always special to come back. I compare it a little bit to every time I play in Vancouver [his hometown], even though I've played there as a visitor a lot more than I have here. It's still a lot of fun to go back to your hometown."
Seven regulars remain from the 2012-13 Bruins, who lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks. The rest have scattered, as Lucic did when he was traded at the 2015 NHL Draft to the Kings before signing a seven-year contract with the Oilers last July 1.
"Especially going back to those really good teams that we had, in 2011 and 2013, those were the guys that you really bonded with more than anything," said Lucic, who has 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 39 games this season. "A lot of those guys aren't here anymore, so as time goes on, the connection with the players on the other team goes away, but I think the connection with the fans and the city is always still there."
And it will continue to be, for a player who was beloved in Boston. He fit the ideal of the Bruins, a big-bodied bruiser who stuck up for his teammates and who found a home riding shotgun alongside center David Krejci. He was affable and intimidating in equal measure.
Video: EDM@ARI: Lucic pads Oilers' lead with tipped PPG
That, in many ways, has been part of what has eased his transition to Edmonton. Lucic always has been a player willing to speak up, though he has spent time learning how to be able to do so as a leader, in the right situation and with the right words.
It hasn't always been smooth. But with the Oilers, who are still learning and growing, it has been important. Edmonton, after all, has center Connor McDavid, a captain who is all of 20 years old, and is far more tilted toward players born in the 1990s than the decade before it. That makes Lucic, at 28, a crucial voice.
"It's easy to blend in," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "It's hard to be the alpha right off the bat because you've got to find your own way. You've got to find your game. It's not easy to bark when you've got your B game.
"I watched Steve Yzerman step up and take control of a team once. It was amazing how much impact he had. But you've been there for 19 or 20 years. So [Lucic] is finding his way in our locker room and with our team, and our team is trying to adapt to him as well. And I think as time goes on, it gets easier and easier."
It has, certainly, been a learning experience.
"You come in with the mentality of just being yourself and doing what you've done over the past year that's given you success," Lucic said. "I've always been a vocal guy, but always been more of the happy-go-lucky guy instead of the call-out type of guy, but it's something that has to be done."
It has given him a greater appreciation for the veterans of his past, for the players who helped guide him when he was a rookie. He sees how hard it is, now that he has to be the one saying the unpopular thing, saying what needs to be said.
"He has a veteran presence, a presence of a winner, somebody that's experienced working his way to the championship within a team environment, so that's real valuable," McLellan said. "[He] looks after his teammates fairly well and he has a voice. That's real important for our team."
Video: TBL@EDM: Lucic buries PPG from the circle
The Oilers are learning. Lucic is learning. And success has been coming.
Edmonton is third in the Pacific Division, ahead of where many predicted it would be. There have been ups and downs, as Lucic acknowledged, for himself and for his teammates, but he sees positives ahead. He sees a young team, a growing team, a talented team, one with more individual talent than those in his early years with the Bruins.
He sees a team that's special and a team that's open, as well as a team that wants to hear what he has to say.
"So far, guys have been willing to listen and guys have been willing to change to play the right way and do what it takes to win," he said. "It's been fun so far."