Lucic getting noticed

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:19 PM ET

It's a highlight they'll be showing for years to come, one which may make Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic a household name.

On Thursday, Lucic hit Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn into the boards so hard, the glass exploded at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

A couple of fans were cut by the flying shards and Van Ryan was also pulling them from the back of his jersey.

"Between him and big Z (Zdeno Chara) without a doubt, they're the hardest hitters on our team," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien, prior to last night's game against the Edmonton Oilers.

"You can probably put them among the top in the league as well. They're not dirty, but they're hard hitters."

Lucic, 20, has made a big impact since arriving on the scene last season with the Bruins.

Boston's third pick (50th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Vancouver native was not expected to make the club.

Instead, Lucic was projected to go back to junior, where the previous season he had helped his hometown Giants win the Memorial Cup.

But very much like Sam Gagner with the Oilers, the Bruins never got an opportunity to cut him.

"When he came to camp, he was one of those guys we knew had a good future, but we didn't think he was going to be ready that quickly," Julien said.

"In training camp, he forced us to keep him. He played very well and it was a case of how we were going to handle him.

"He started off getting minimal ice time and as he progressed we gave him a little bit more. Then injuries allowed him to step up.

"He took advantage of his break and by the end of the year, anybody that watched us play could see he was one of our best players in the playoffs."

Lucic scored eight goals and added 19 assists while amassing 89 penalty minutes in 77 games with the Bruins last season.

A physical force, despite his age, the six-foot-three, 228-pound winger also had 13 fights.

"Last year, I just wanted to work hard every day to try to get better," Lucic said.

"At the start I wasn't playing much and I really had to work my way up the lineup. That's what my main focus was, to play hard and contribute more as the season went on."

Heading into last night's game, Lucic had yet to get into a fight this season, But he did collect his first NHL hat trick on Saturday in a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

"It was nice to contribute with the three goals," he said. "But for me it's about how you're going to respond in the next game."

Lucic got a good look at all three goals, deciding to wear contact lenses for the first time since his junior days.

Back then, he'd lost one in a fight and figured it was not worth it. Saturday's performance helped change his mind.

"I don't think it's the reason I scored three goals," Lucic smiled.

"It's just something that the guys on the team have been nagging me about. They've noticed that I've been squinting a lot. They forced me to go get some contacts and it's helped me with my vision.

"I'm near-sighted, so things aren't that clear for me when I'm out on the ice. This just makes everything hi-def for me now."

Lucic is starting to draw comparisons to former Bruins great Cam Neely.

In his day, Neely, now a Bruins' vice-president, was considered the game's most dominant power forward.

"Milan's best asset and his skill set is playing physical, playing the body and creating room for his linemates and himself," Neely said.

"But it's really unfair to compare him to anybody else. I know there were a lot of comparisons between myself and (Terry) O'Reilly.

"Milan is himself and his own person. We're not trying to put any expectations on him, either than what he can bring to our hockey club. He needs to play physical and it helps our team win hockey games when he does."


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