Expectations have been understandably high for Milan Lucic since he signed with the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 2016. The team invested significant, long-term cap-space for a player that would provide a blend of talent, physicality and experience – key elements identified by management as being critical for success.
After a less-than-stellar showing in 2016-2017, the Oilers appear to have the forward that they had envisioned. Over the first 28 games, Lucic has been a regular in the top six and has been far more productive at even-strength (5v5) compared to last season. He currently ranks third on the team in points per hour with 2.39, a significant improvement from the 1.22 points per hour, a career low, that he posted the year before.
This is extremely encouraging consdering the cost of the player and the amount of ice time he consistently receives. The question now is if Lucic’s productivity is sustainable. The team is in desperate need of offence and needs production from every corner of the roster, especially those that are paid as highly as Lucic.
Looking at his on-ice shooting and save percentages, as well as the team’s shot-share numbers with him on the ice, it doesn’t appear that Lucic will be able to maintain his productivity.
Lucic currently ranks first on the team in PDO with 104.6, with his on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentages well above the normal ranges. And it’s likely that over the course of the season these percentages will regress towards the mean. But even if that did occur, it wouldn’t be the end of the world as long as his on-ice shot share numbers were fine.
The problem is, those numbers are poor.
With Lucic on the ice this season, the Oilers have posted a 48.87% Corsi For%. That’s one of the worst on the team, only ahead of Zach Kassian and Iiro Pakarinen, and is a sizable drop from his career norms. The Oilers in general are one of the better possession teams in the league (52.55% CF), making Lucic’s numbers stand out like a sore thumb.
Now this should be of concern for two reasons.
First off, a player that the Oilers invested heavily in to be a difference-maker might already be declining in his overall play. You would hope that this season is an anomaly, but considering his age and style of play, it’s a strong possibility.
Secondly, he’s become a possession drag to the Oilers franchise player who’s expected to drive offence. In the 113 minutes that Lucic has played with McDavid this season, the team has posted a 50.5% Corsi For. Away from Lucic, McDavid’s on-ice Corsi For% shoots up to 55.4% – which aligns closer to what we expect from McDavid. While they are currently posting an incredible goal-share of 70% (7 GF, 3 GA), it’ll be hard to maintain with such mediocre possession numbers.
Definitely something to keep an eye on this season.
Data: Natural Stat Trick