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Northeast: Lucic's strong play making an impression

by James Murphy / NHL.com

Bruins' rookie forward Milan Lucic has a
goal and an assist in eight games, and has a good chance to remain in Boston.

The Boston Bruins drafted Phil Kessel with the fifth overall selection in the 2006 Entry Draft. Kessel, a highly touted forward out of the University of Minnesota who made the team out of training camp last season, was one of the bright spots in an otherwise difficult season for Boston, as the then-18-year-old beat testicular cancer and went on to have a solid rookie season.

Well, eight games into this season, the Bruins are once again reaping the benefits of their scouting department’s eye for talent as another 2006 draft pick is making an impact. Rookie forward Milan Lucic, taken 50th overall in that draft, made the team after an impressive prospects camp in July and even better training camp. He has left Bruins management with a difficult decision to make this week.

On Tuesday, Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli refuted a report in Sunday’s Vancouver Province and Canadian Press that claimed the Bruins had decided to keep Lucic in Boston and not return him to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.

Under the current CBA, once a junior player plays 10 NHL games, he loses a season of eligibility on his three-year entry level contract. Lucic has a goal and an assist in eight games with Boston and has provided the physical presence the Bruins were hoping to find this season.

 

“Milan has played physical and matured each game,” Chiarelli said. “He works hard out there and has been a pleasant surprise.”

Chiarelli said the team still plans to make that decision after Thursday’s game with Chicago, which would be Lucic’s ninth game. The feeling around Boston is Lucic will be in uniform for the Bruins when they host the Flyers Saturday afternoon. If they choose to, the Bruins can keep him and send him back to juniors later in the season, but he cannot be sent to the American Hockey League.

“I guess this kid is doing something right, because you guys ask me about him every day,” coach Claude Julien joked. “No, all kidding aside, he’s really come in here and done a great job of fitting in and doing the little things needed to win. He’s also been able to bring that physical element and set the tempo at certain points. We need all our players to do that and to know when the right time to do it is.”

Two ways the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lucic has set that tempo has been to drop the gloves and create scoring chances from his hard work along the boards. In his first NHL game, with his team trailing the Dallas Stars early, he found himself pitted against Stars defenseman Brad Winchester. Two games later, Lucic fought Los Angeles Kings heavyweight Raitis Ivanans. He also scored the eventual game-winning goal and chipped in an assist in an 8-6 win for Boston. Then, in the team’s home opener, a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay, Lucic got the hometown fans going when he tangled with Lightning forward Nick Tarnasky in the opening period.

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference has been impressed with the rookie’s ability to recognize when to drop the gloves and also the effect it can have on the team and the fans.

“Obviously we don’t want guys to just go out and fight for no reason, taking dumb penalties, and he definitely knows that,” Ference said. “For sure, everyone gets into it. The fans get into it and the building starts buzzing. Then, with that leading to goals, that gets our bench on our feet, gets the people on their feet. He has seen some opportunities where maybe we needed a spark and he’s tried to provide it. That’s pretty impressive coming from a young kid like Milan.”

Julien echoed Ference’s assessment.

“I think he’s done a good job, as have some other guys, of knowing when to do it,” Julien said. “He’s not just providing what we need through fighting, though. It’s working hard every shift, paying attention in practice and translating what you’ve learned into every shift you play. Milan’s still learning but he has handled this well and done a good job so far.”

Milan Lucic was a part of the
2006-07 Memorial Cup- winning Vancouver Giants.

Lucic acknowledged that he is indeed trying to spark the team and the crowd and is happy they appreciate his efforts.

“That's the whole reason for a fight, to get the fans and our players into it. That gets the momentum on our side,” Lucic said. “It's one of those spur-of-the-moment things that helps change the momentum. I’m going to try to contribute on the scoreboard, too, but a big part of my game is being physical. I'm not going to go away from that, either.”

Lucic, a Vancouver native, already has drawn comparisons to another Vancouver-area native that played for the Bruins, Hall of Famer Cam Neely, with some saying he has the potential to be a legitimate power forward. When told of such comparisons, Lucic bashfully laughed and shook his head.

“I don’t think we can go there, but I’m honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as him,” Lucic said of Neely, who just happened to be his father’s favorite player. “I’m just going out there and doing my best and trying to do what’s got me to this point.”

Who’s hot? -- The Canadiens are clicking on all cylinders right now. The offense is finding its stride, which was evident in a 6-1 thumping of the Bruins Monday night. Alexei Kovalev had a goal and an assist in that game, and has four points in his last four games. Forward Christopher Higgins also has four points in his last four games and center Tomas Plekanec has chipped in with four assists in his last three games. Montreal also is getting offense from the back end, as well. Roman Hamrlik has a goal and three assists in two games.

Montreal also has benefited from two solid performances by Cristobal Huet. Huet made 31 saves in the win over Boston, and last Saturday he had 25 saves in a 4-2 win over Buffalo.

Black and Blue

Numminen

Buffalo -- Defenseman Teppo Numminen remains on injured reserve recovering from open-heart surgery to repair a faulty valve. Fellow blueliner Jaroslav Spacek is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. Spacek was expected to join his team for a three-game road trip that starts tomorrow in Carolina and hopefully play in Florida Friday or Saturday at Tampa Bay.

Montreal -- Forward Garth Murray is out indefinitely with a broken right ankle.

Ottawa -- Forward Dean McAmmond is on injured reserve after suffering a concussion in the preseason. Forward Antoine Vermette is day-to-day with back spasms.

Tucker

Toronto -- The Maple Leafs’ injury woes continued this past week as it was announced Monday that forward Darcy Tucker has ligament damage in his right knee. Tucker is out indefinitely, with further exams expected this week to determine the exact extent of the injury. Forward Boyd Devereaux also joined the injury list and is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and forward Kyle Wellwood (sports hernia) remain on injured reserve, but both have been getting light skating sessions recently and could be nearing a return.

The week ahead

Boston -- The Bruins have only two games over the next week, as they host the Blackhawks Thursday night and the Flyers in a 4 p.m. matinee Saturday.

Buffalo -- The Sabres embark on a three-game road trip which starts Wednesday in Carolina and includes stops Friday at Florida and Saturday at Tampa Bay.

Montreal -- The Canadiens have a two-game road trip this week that will see them play the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Friday and then face Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Montreal then returns home to host the Thrashers Tuesday.

Ottawa -- After a week off, the Senators will be in Newark Saturday night to help christen the Prudential Center in the Devils’ home opener. They then have another long layoff as they don’t play until Thursday, Nov. 1, when they host the Thrashers.

Toronto -- The Maple Leafs will travel to Pittsburgh Thursday and then face the Rangers Saturday. They return home to face Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals Monday at the Air Canada Centre.
 

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