Lucic to play 1,000th NHL game, says trade to Flames revived career

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Milan Lucic said there is one moment that was more important than any other in getting him to his 1,000th NHL regular-season game.

The forward will reach that milestone when the Calgary Flames play at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TVAS, SNO, SNW, NHL.TV), but the most important date in his journey came in July 2019.

Lucic had just finished the 2018-19 season with the Edmonton Oilers with the lowest output of his 14-season NHL career, scoring 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 79 games. He got a phone call came from Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who was hoping to convince Lucic to waive his no-trade clause and accept a trade to Calgary.

“I’m really happy I picked up that call, because when you’re in Edmonton, you don’t really want to talk to someone just down the road in Calgary because of the rivalry,” Lucic said. “But I’m happy that I did.”

After waiving the no-trade clause, Lucic was traded with a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to Calgary on July 19, 2019 for forward James Neal. Now in his second season with the Flames, the 32-year-old said he’s feeling more comfortable and effective in a defined role on the third line and on the power play.

He has scored 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 41 games this season for the Flames, who are fifth in the seven-team Scotia North Division, six points behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens. The top four teams in the division make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 68 regular-season games last season.

Lucic said that he was increasingly unsettled through three seasons in Edmonton, where he had signed a seven-year contract July 1, 2016. In his first nine NHL seasons, eight with the Boston Bruins, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, and one with the Los Angeles Kings, he had averaged 0.61 points per game (397 points in 647 games). But in Edmonton things got progressively worse during his three seasons, dropping to 0.25 points per game in 2018-19.

“I think the trade and the transition to Calgary has been really good for me, especially on a personal note,” Lucic said. “From a mental health standpoint, I think I was lost in Edmonton by the end of it. I was kind of questioning what I was doing and why I was doing it, questioning the people around me because of how things went there.”

He credits Geoff Ward with the revival. Ward, who had been an assistant with the Bruins for seven seasons while Lucic was there, was associate coach of the Flames when Lucic arrived and became the coach Nov. 26, 2019 when Bill Peters resigned. Ward was replaced by Darryl Sutter on March 4.

“I think it started with the coaching staff, got me going again and really had me caring about the right things again and I feel like my old self again,” Lucic said. “I’ve had a lot of former teammates and people, especially this year, telling me about how happy they are to see I look like myself again.”

Who is that player?

It’s a team-first power forward (6-foot-3, 231 pounds), who fears nothing and nobody. He has scored 537 points (213 goals, 324 assists) in 999 games with the Bruins, Kings, Oilers and Flames.

But former teammates say his numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“He’s the definition of a Bruin,” Boston forward Brad Marchand said. “What he brought, the excitement — I mean, he was a god here. Everybody loved him. We loved him as a teammate. I sat beside him in the room. He’s just such a great guy. Such a great teammate. He was a competitor. He wanted to win. He brought it every day. He was so hard to play against. Obviously not a guy you want to play against. But even better off the ice. So much fun to around.”

Another of Lucic’s former Bruins teammates, defenseman Shane Hnidy, said Lucic remains his favorite NHL rookie. Hnidy was traded to the Bruins on Jan. 2, 2008, mid-way through Lucic’s first season.

“He was so genuine, always in a good mood. Then in the game he was a scary force,” said Hnidy, who’s now the television analyst on Vegas Golden Knights broadcasts. “We were a tough team and he had our backs. A lot of guys have to get bigger and stronger but that was never the case with him. He was a kid but he came in a man. A rarity. And played the game as a man.”

And even though he had his difficulties in Edmonton, Lucic had a positive effect there.

“I think the biggest thing about ‘Looch’ is that he’s got the biggest heart,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “He’s a guy that cares so deeply for his teammates. His time here, he had a great impact on myself and ‘Leo’ [Leon Draisaitl] and a lot of other guys. For him to play 1,000 is pretty special and he should be really proud of that.”

Lucic said his 1,000th game makes him proud of another big-picture accomplishment, forging a long NHL career after he was an unknown teenager who made a Junior B team in Delta, British Columbia as a walk-on. Two seasons later, he was an integral member of Vancouver of the Western Hockey League and rapidly climbing in the NHL Draft rakings.

“I ended up being a second-rounder (selected No. 50 by the Bruins in the 2006 NHL Draft),” he said. “I just showed up to that Junior B camp, then being in the NHL three years later, I think that’s one of my achievements of putting your mind to something and being able to achieve a dream.”

NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report

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