BOSTON - If the NHL were college, Milan Lucic would be a senior.
So just like a student on the brink of graduation, more will be expected from the Boston Bruins winger in this, his fourth year in the league. It's also the first of a three-year deal worth a reported US$4.083 million per season. He signed the contract last spring.
"I feel like I have the ability to help contribute to this team a little bit more," Lucic said on Tuesday after practice at TD Garden. "I still, in my three years, haven't been able to hit the 20-goal mark and I feel like that's a realistic goal for me this year and that's a personal goal that I should be able to meet. In saying that, I shouldn't just be thinking that way. If I just start thinking goal, goal, goal and just getting points, that's when my play kind of starts to suffer.
"I think if I'm just moving my feet and playing physical, everything else tends to fall into place. I think after playing now, going into my fourth year, what I want to do is try to be the best player on the ice on a more consistent level. I think that's a challenge for myself and that's what I'm looking forward to doing this year."
Lucic entered the league as a 19-year-old in 2007, scoring eight goals. He increased that total to 17 his second year, but dropped off to nine last season. The major obstacle for Lucic in 2009-10 was the injury bug, which limited him to just 50 games. A broken finger kept him out of 13 games in the fall, and he suffered a high ankle sprain Nov. 25 and didn't return until Jan. 7.
While he played well in spurts, Lucic acknowledged in the spring that he had a tough time learning how much he could push himself when he wasn't 100 per cent. He felt limited in what he could do. After four days of on-ice workouts this training camp, Lucic said he's feeling better every day.
"I don't have to tape it anymore, which is a good sign," he said of his ankle. "I'm not going to lie. I did not like taping it one bit. That was probably the hardest thing to adjust to when I first came back, was the tape. And you're going to have the restricted movement because you're locked into that one position. So, like I said, at the end of last year, I felt like I was playing real well in the Philadelphia series and I was skating real well. In that series, I was moving my feet and I was skating real well and I think that's why I was able to produce offensively."
Lucic was solid in the playoffs with five goals and four assists in 13 games. Coach Claude Julien is looking for that to carry over.
"I think it definitely slowed him down. I think anyone who has been injured twice, with not minor but major injuries, certainly it takes its toll," said Julien, whose team lost in the second round to Philadelphia, despite winning the series' first three games. "So it was a tough year for him. We acknowledge that. At the same time, it's kind of an opportunity to redeem himself and bounce back with a good year here. Getting off to a good start is important. I think he trained hard this summer to get into shape, and if he's scoring goals, that's a good sign."
The Bruins open their pre-season schedule Wednesday in Montreal and continue Thursday in Rochester, N.Y., against Florida. Lucic figures to get into one of those two games.