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Milan Lucic gives Oilers needed element

Edmonton adds swagger, size by signing left wing to seven-year contract

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The Edmonton Oilers had skill. Now they have snarl.

They will have it for a good, long time after signing Milan Lucic to a seven-year contract that ESPN reported was worth $42 million when the NHL free-agent market opened Friday, and that's the obvious concern. Seven years is a lot of term for a power forward who is 28 and locked up through age 34.

But you have to take risk if you're going to win bidding wars in unrestricted free agency, especially if you're a team like the Oilers, who have missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons and play in one of the coldest of the cold-weather markets.

And general manager Peter Chiarelli was willing to take this risk because he knows what Lucic can do on the left wing with elite centers.

Video: Lucic signs seven-year deal in Edmonton

Chiarelli was the GM of the Boston Bruins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and returned to the Final in 2013 with Lucic playing alongside centers David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, and now he has put Lucic alongside Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl.

"It basically came down to the McDavid factor," Lucic told Sportsnet.

McDavid, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, had 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 45 games last season and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy. If not for a broken collarbone, he might have had an even more impressive rookie season. He, more than anyone or anything else in Edmonton, brings hope.

"With him, you can start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Lucic told Sportsnet. "I truly believe with a special player like that it's inevitable that he's going to do something great."

Chiarelli had to be confident Lucic was coming when he traded left wing Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday for defenseman Adam Larsson.  

Video: Analyzing Wednesday's Hall for Larsson trade

By trading Hall, the Oilers acquired a right-shot defenseman they think can solidify their top pair, and by acquiring Lucic, they have filled Hall's spot at left wing on the top line and added more size and toughness.

The Oilers already have forward Matt Hendricks, 6 feet, 207 pounds; Zack Kassian, 6-3, 217; and Patrick Maroon, 6-3, 230. Their latest top draft pick has some size, too: Forward Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, is 6-3, 203.

Lucic stands 6-3. He weighs 233 pounds. With his hunched back and bent nose, he is one of the most intimidating players in the League. 

"I think the Oilers have been missing a little bit of attitude and a little bit of swagger over the last couple years, and that's something I bring to a team," Lucic told Sportsnet. 

That matters. It sets a tone. It gives the team confidence. It opens space for teammates like McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins. But it matters only if Lucic can play, and Lucic can play. Nathan Horton, Lucic's buddy and linemate in Boston, used to call him "Ultimate" because he could do it all: skate, score, hit, pass.

Lucic is not the speediest forward in the League, and speed is in vogue after the way the Pittsburgh Penguins just won the Cup. Power forwards tend to decline in their mid-30s, which Lucic will reach in the later years of this contract.

But as long as he's in shape, Lucic skates well for a man his size, and he can think with elite players. He knows where to go. He knows when to go there. When his center puts the puck on his stick, he has the hands to put it in the net.

He has scored between 18 and 30 goals in each of his past five full seasons, and he has missed 10 games in the past six seasons. Hall has ranged between 14 and 27 goals over his six NHL seasons, partly because he has missed 77 games because of injuries.

"My abilities go further than just the intimidation factor," Lucic told Sportsnet. "I've played with such high-end centermen. That's something I wanted to continue doing moving forward.

"I've always been a give-and-go type of player. I feel like I've been able to adjust to what the centerman's doing. I feel like the centermen, they control a lot of what's going on, and as wingers, we need to be there to support them as best we can.

"I've always been able to find a way to support these guys."

McDavid might like the Lucic factor.

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