Milan Lucic: The Long, Nasty Road

Calgary's veteran power forward is slated to play his 1,000th game tonight, an impressive feat for someone who plays as hard as he has over the years.
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Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, Calgary's Milan Lucic is slated to play in his 1,000th NHL game and while that kind of longevity is impressive for any player, it's almost doubly so for a power forward who has dropped the gloves as much as Lucic.

There have certainly been ups and downs for Lucic in his career, but the fact he has been able to play a rugged game for so long should be acknowledged. Heck, Cam Neely - the power forward prototype and Lucic's former boss in Boston - was limited to 726 games in his Hall of Fame career due to injuries.

While players who could fight, intimidate and score were all over the place in the 1980s and 90s, that character has become a lot more rare in recent years. Neely was the best example of the blend back in the day, but you also had fighters who could play, like Bob Probert and Tie Domi.

These days? It's a hard commodity to find.

Washington's Tom Wilson is the best example and his success with the Capitals has led to a Stanley Cup title, as well as opponents thinking about 'Tom Wilson Insurance' in the playoffs. Like Lucic, Wilson can fight, throw devastating (sometimes illegal) hits and also score.

One to watch in the coming years will be Brady Tkachuk in Ottawa. The Senators love him because, as chief amateur scout Trent Mann told me recently for the Future Watch cover story, Tkachuk drags others into battle with him - he's not going to take a shift off, so you shouldn't either.

Tkachuk can definitely score and he can definitely fight, but is he already too valuable to be fighting regularly for the Sens? Either way, Ottawa knew they had a gem when they drafted Tkachuk in 2018 and other teams are always on the lookout for those mould-breaking guys.

The thing is, with fighting down dramatically in junior hockey (a good thing to many people - I'm not here to open that can of worms), we're seeing less power forwards getting drafted and developed. That's why some teams are quite high on Tyler Boucher from the U.S. National Team Development Program. The son of former NHL goalie Brian Boucher very much plays that heat-seeking missile style on the wing, blowing up opponents with big hits. There isn't much fighting in the USHL and with Boucher committed to Boston University he won't be doing much brawling for the next few years. But once the 2021 draft prospect turns pro, we could see a battering ram causing Lucic-style chaos.

Looking at Lucic's peak, we find a guy who topped 60 points and 120 PIM in back-to-back seasons with the Bruins, the first of which led to a Cup championship in 2011. He also essentially ended Buffalo's window for success during that period when he ran over Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Buffalo's skaters infamously did not respond to Lucic in the wake of the hit and those Sabres were never the same. In fact, Buffalo hasn't made the playoffs since that incident.

But as mentioned before, there have been ups and downs. Lucic was not a success in Edmonton and at 32, he's no longer the dominant force in Calgary that he was in his Bruins days. But Lucic was surprisingly good for the Flames in the playoffs last year and he's still playing top-nine minutes for the team now.

In the end - whenever the end may be - Lucic will be remembered as one of those players who, in his prime, you hated to see your team play against, but wanted on your side. Getting to 1,000 games is certainly an accomplishment for him, because he did it all the hard way.

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