Please recall the end of the 2016-17 season.
Oh, we had high hopes. High expectations. The Oilers had just made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Connor McDavid had scored a hundred points en route to being named MVP. Cam Talbot stopped nearly everything in front of him. Nobody got injured (except Darnell Nurse and Tyler Pitlick). The Oilers made it to the second round of the NHL playoffs and was a bounce away from the third round.
The Oilers had nowhere to go but up.
Newly acquired winger Milan Lucic was on the first year of a seven year deal and he scored 50 points in 82 games playing all up and down the left wing. It was a little on the light end of what everyone hoped for, but there’s the adjustment period of playing on a new club, in a new city...50 points in 82 games wasn’t a number to be alarmed about, though everyone was hoping he’d kill it on a line with Connor McDavid.
2017-18 was going to be a season to remember. Everything was gonna be great.
AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED
Everything was not great.
The Oilers finished a full 25 points less in the standings than they did in 2016-17. At 78 points, they missed the cut by 17 points. Newly acquired Ryan Strome couldn’t replace the scoring of the departed Jordan Eberle. Cam Talbot proved to be human. Injuries began piling up.
And Lucic? He finished with just 34 points on the year. It wasn’t a good year at all.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN
I’ve been a vocal critic of Milan Lucic since the deal was announced that he’d be on this club’s roster for seven years at Taylor Hall Money. I’ve got a few reasons as to why I think his production took a dip, but the biggest elephant in the room is that the guy couldn’t score a goal to save his life for a while. Lucic went 29 straight games without a goal, which, is well...not good.
Lucic’s shot percentage was a meagre 6.8%, which is his career worst (8.9% with Boston in 2012-13). Lucic’s career S% clocks in at 13.7%, so there’s got to be a happy medium going forward. Right?
Lucic spent a significant chunk of this past season on the third line with Ryan Strome and whichever right wing wasn’t getting reps in on the top line. Maybe that was Jesse Puljujarvi, maybe that was Drake Caggiula. Maybe. The bottom line is that nobody scored goals very often on that line. Milan Lucic scored ten goals this past year, down from 23 his year prior.
DOES IT GET BETTER NEXT YEAR?
For the sake of the Oilers, It’s got to be better than 34 points.
Whether he scores 30, 40 or 50+ is going to depend on how Lucic is used (and whether or not he can leave last year behind.) Like last year, Lucic could find himself in a few different places. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished last season alongside McDavid on the top line. The second left wing position was held by a few different Oilers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see if Lucic got another shot in the top six to open the season. A full season of Lucic on the third line will probably see him struggle to reach much more than 40 points.
Lucic turns 30 tomorrow. He’s got some hard miles on his odometer and if he doesn’t regain a scoring touch early on in 2018-19, he’ll likely find himself on the third line for a large chunk of the season. The Oilers have five more years of Milan Lucic, they’ve got to hope his game returns to form.
For his sake and ours, I hope that’s the case.