EDMONTON, Alberta — Eleven years ago, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic faced off as teenagers chasing the Memorial Cup. Marchand was a 66-point player for Moncton of the QMJHL. Lucic, a first-year WHLer with Vancouver, was better known for his fists (169 penalty minutes) than point-producing hands (nine goals).
Both left wings and former teammates have progressed since then. Lucic scored a seven-year, $42 million blockbuster with Edmonton because of his ability, when he’s on his game, to be a dangerous power forward. Marchand, meanwhile, has grown from a fourth-line agitator to a premier left wing and part of a ferocious tandem with Patrice Bergeron, according to his former teammate.
“We played against them in the Memorial Cup in 2006,” Lucic recalled. “It’s really funny, but I’ve always noticed his skill set. He doesn’t lack any confidence. It’s just taken this long to what he’s become. Having a centerman like Bergy helps. But he’s evolved as, in my mind, a top-two left winger in the league because he’s had that confidence and he’s had that skill set.”
The Bruins drafted Lucic (No. 50 overall) and Marchand (No. 71) in 2006 following their meeting in the CHL playoffs. The following summer, both left wings reported to Wilmington for their first development camp with the Bruins. They left Ristuccia Arena to play for their country in the Canada-Russia Super Series. While Lucic made the Bruins in 2007, it took Marchand three more years to become a full-time member of the varsity. They were 1-2 left-side teammates for five seasons until the Bruins traded Lucic to Los Angeles on June 26, 2015.
So Lucic knows Marchand as well as anyone. That his fellow Class of 2006 member has become an elite player and an MVP candidate is no revelation for Lucic.
“What can you say? The hottest player since January 1st,” Lucic said, referring to Marchand’s league-high 50 points since New Year’s Day. “I know a lot of people are somewhat surprised about how he’s played this season. Me, knowing him and getting to be his teammate for five years, I’m definitely not surprised with the success he’s having. Obviously he’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s been on a roll.”
Marchand scored a goal and two assists in Thursday’s 7-4 loss to the Oilers, giving him a league-leading 79 points. Connor McDavid (24-55—79) kept pace with Marchand with three assists. They are two points ahead of Patrick Kane (31-46—77), who had entered the night in a three-way tie with Marchand and McDavid.
Marchand and McDavid are competing for the Hart Trophy not just because of their scoring, but because both the Bruins and Oilers might be out of the playoff hunt if not for their points and presence.
Before Thursday’s game, an Edmonton reporter noted how McDavid, Kane, and Sidney Crosby (74 points), three of the top four scorers, were first overall picks, while Marchand was drafted in the third round.
“You should bring that up to him,” Cassidy said. “Because I think that’ll will him even more. He’s that type of guy. That’s just Marshy. He wants to prove people wrong. He has proven people wrong. I think he’s only going to grow. He’s only going to get better.”
There was a time when Lucic could change the game more dynamically than Marchand because of his straight-line speed, soft hands, locomotive-like brawn, and bone-breaking punching power. It is not so anymore. Of the two, Marchand is the more critical presence because of how he touches the game in every element. Marchand’s $6.125 million average annual value, which kicks in next year, looks far friendlier than Lucic’s $6 million annual payday.
It has not been an easy season for Lucic (16-25—41, 41 penalty minutes). In the dressing room, Lucic occupies the stall on McDavid’s left. It was the position that general manager Peter Chiarelli projected Lucic would fill on the ice. But fellow widebody Patrick Maroon (two goals and a fight with Adam McQuaid) has been a better fit as McDavid’s linemate. Of late, Lucic has found more traction on the No. 2 line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“For me, it’s just starting to have fun again,” Lucic said. “If you look at the middle of the season, things weren’t going too well with frustration and all that type of stuff. That last road trip, starting in Chicago, just starting to have fun again, embracing this hockey club and this team and what we’ve become.”
Backes says he’s OK
Although David Backes felt well enough to score Wednesday’s game-winning goal after slamming his left knee into the Scotiabank Saddledome end boards in the first period, the right wing wasn’t sure how he’d be the next morning.
On Thursday, after reporting to Rogers Place, Backes said he was OK to play against the Oilers.
“I know what I felt when I went in,” Backes said of his collision, which left him unable to retreat to the dressing room without assistance. “You get the trainers looking at you, they give you the OK, a little pain management, and back in the game. Yeah, I feel fortunate. I know that was not a light little collision with the wall. The wall wasn’t moving much.”
Backes started the game on the first line. The right wing (two shots in 15:00 of ice time) also took shifts on the second line.
Cehlarik, Czarnik assigned to Providence
The Bruins assigned Peter Cehlarik and Austin Czarnik to Providence. The forwards were healthy scratches against the Oilers . . . Drew Stafford alternated between second-line left wing and third-line right wing. The ex-Jet failed to land a shot on net in 15:25 of play . . . Fifty seconds after McQuaid fought Maroon in the first period, Zdeno Chara engaged in a brief scrap with Zack Kassian. While McQuaid and Maroon finished their fight on their skates, Chara tugged Kassian to the ice . . . While McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins are fast, quick, and explosive playmakers, the Oilers also flex up-front muscle. “They’ve got a mix of pace and they’ve got a mix of heaviness,” Cassidy said. “Draisaitl’s big. Looch is big. Maroon’s having a heck of a year — a big man who played well against us last time. Our D are going to have a mixed bag. They’re going to have to be ready for pace, and they’re going to have to be ready for heaviness and to box out.” . . . Lucic is now 4-0-0, between LA and Edmonton, against his old team.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.