Admit it: You thought Milan Lucic was done. The once-intimidating power forward had been a non-factor for most of the season for the Calgary Flames and only arrived in town via trade from Edmonton in a rare intra-Alberta swap for James Neal, in which both teams were trying to salvage something from bad contracts that had been signed.
So of course Lucic has a point in all five games Calgary has played this summer, including Tuesday in the Flames’ opening-series win against the Dallas Stars. Not only that, but the winger was taking all the face-offs on his line with Sam Bennett and Dillon Dube—and Lucic was really good, winning 69% of his draws.
“He’s been good there,” said interim coach Geoff Ward. “He’s got strength and he does an awful lot of things with his power. He’s been good in the circle so we’ve decided to keep rolling with him there. And he likes it, he likes taking draws.”
Naturally Lucic was not alone on his line. Dube popped in the first two goals of the game for Calgary, the second on a dazzling shoulder-dipping rush to the Dallas net, while Bennett continues to impress with his gritty, two-way play. The effectiveness of the trio has led Ward to start a lot of games and periods with them.
“They’ve done a good job getting pucks in the offensive zone and going to work,” he said. “And that really sets up our guys in the first rotation of our lines. For them, they’ve shown a real ability to make sure we get the draw and get it deep. That’s an important thing for us early in a hockey game—try to establish some zone time, try to get some early shots on net. And they’re heavy guys. They’re hard to play against because they play heavy. Dillon has great speed, so he can complement the heaviness of the other two.”
While Dube is a young player still on the rise and Bennett seems to have found himself a second act in the NHL as a more grinding, physical guy, it is truly amazing to see Lucic’s early turnaround in this post-season. With 20 points in the regular season, he wasn’t really much of a factor for the Flames and the power forward had been trending downwards for years – perhaps not surprising given the typical shelf life of bigger, physical players in today’s NHL.
But now? He’s still physical, he’s still intimidating (hard to see many Stars wanting to fight him in this series; Jamie Oleksiak and maybe Jamie Benn being the candidates) and now he’s putting up offensive numbers on a very good third line.
“He’s been buzzing, he’s flying out there,” Dube said. “Everything he does is intense and with speed. It makes it really easy for Benny and I to play the way we do when he is direct on it. He’s a big presence out there and when he’s on, he controls the game a lot.”
This is undoubtedly good news for the Flames, as the franchise doesn’t have much Stanley Cup experience. Lucic won a championship back in 2011 with the Boston Bruins and that ring is the only one in the Calgary dressing room right now.
With top-liners such as Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk all getting their points too, the Flames are getting a very balanced attack so far. That spelled trouble for Winnipeg and it might be too much for the Stars to handle as well. And if Lucic continues to turn back the clock, the Western Conference better be on high alert.