Before the season, Claude Julien insisted that Milan Lucic was a good enough skater to hold his own on bigger ice in the Olympics.
Last month, he reiterated that stance. Perhaps it needed reiterating given that Lucic is known more for being a big body than fleet of foot, but if you’ve watched Lucic this season, you’ve probably seen Julien’s point.
Recent games have brought more and more cases of Lucic turning on the jets and giving the Bruins scoring opportunities as a result. Take last week’s game against the Canadiens, when Dennis Seidenberg kicked a puck to him in the neutral zone. Lucic zoomed into the offensive zone and was about to split the D, causing both Montreal defenders to take to him and leave Gregory Campbell unattended.
Lucic dished, Campbell scored.
“Looch is fast,” Campbell said afterwards of Lucic. “When he gets going, when he gets his feet moving he's a fast player. That is underrated about him. He's an up-and-down-the-ice, straight-line player, and that's what they do.
“Some of those guys, they have such big bodies that their speed is deceiving, but it is a huge asset for him. When he's going, he's really tough to stop.”
Lucic frequently speaks about the need to “keep his feet moving,” but this season has proven that it isn’t just a throwaway line. The veteran power-forward is known for being a bruising player who either wears down opponents or scares them away, but he and his teammates know that his speed can make him an even more difficult presence on the ice.
Reputations are what they are. Lucic is known as a power forward, and power forwards aren’t known for being fast. He’s just fine with people thinking that.
“Maybe because of the long stride and people don't see the feet moving as quick as the other guys, but for me personally I feel like it's never really been an issue,” Lucic said. “I feel like I've always been able to keep up with the pace and keep up with the speed. I've played in two Stanley Cup finals, and there's no faster pace than that. I've been able to keep up with that pace. If it's overlooked, I guess it's an advantage for me.”
Lucic couldn’t be putting his burst on display at a better time, as it’s a nice thing to have on his résumé as he makes his case for Team Canada. In fact, when Lucic and Brad Marchand were the Bruins wingers invited to this summer’s orientation camp, Marchand seemed like perhaps a better fit for the team given his speed. However, Marchand’s struggles this season make him an almost lock to miss the cut, while Lucic’s play has made him a viable candidate to compete on a stacked team.
Lucic is probably on the bubble, as Patrice Bergeron figures to have the best chance of the Bruins’ three orientation camp invites to make the team. His production thus far this season certainly helps his case though, as his 11 goals both lead the Bruins and give him more than some other bubble players in Logan Couture and Jamie Benn, among others. The team will be announced on Jan. 7.
How would Lucic translate to bigger ice? He says it hasn’t been an issue in the past, as he represented the under-20 Canada team in the 2007 Super Series against Russia. Lucic noted that when he was younger, one of his team’s opponents in the British Columbia Hockey League played on an Olympic-sized rink.
Team Canada wouldn’t be able to afford having a player out there who wasn’t moving well on the big ice. If Lucic was in the shape he was in last season after the lockout when he drifted through games, he’d be an easy cut. That hasn’t been the case, as Lucic has continued his pace from last postseason and has shown that his speed can be more of a weapon than people might think.
As for the Olympics, Lucic definitely has the endorsement of one of Mike Babcock’s assistants.
“Milan is a good skater,” Julien said. “Once he gets going in a straight line, he gets there. At the end of it, you're going to look at if he fits into your top 23 or 22 players and go from there.”
Lucic has said over and over again that helping the Bruins is his top priority this season. His skating may or may not help him go to Sochi and play for Team Canada, but it has accomplished his main goal of being a being a better player for the Bruins.