NHL.com’s Q&A feature called “Five Questions With …” runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Calgary Flames forward Milan Lucic.
Milan Lucic is like any other player who’s traded and zeroes in on upcoming games against his former team.
The Calgary Flames forward has had his eye on Friday for some time. That’s when the Flames will play against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place (9 p.m. ET; ESPN+, SNW, NHL.TV) in the first of five Battle of Alberta games this season. It will be Lucic’s first game against the Oilers since being traded with a conditional pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to Calgary by Edmonton for forward James Neal on July 19.
“I think it’ll be pretty crazy,” said Lucic, who spent three seasons with the Oilers after signing a seven-year contract as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2016.
The trade was not without controversy. In 2016-17, his first season in Edmonton, Lucic had 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games; the Oilers made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006 and reached the Western Conference Second Round before losing to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.
But his production declined in the next two seasons, to 10 goals in 2017-18 and six goals last season before the trade.
With Calgary this season, Lucic has eight points (three goals, five assists) in 37 games. Neal has 23 points (16 goals, seven assists) in 3 games with the Oilers.
The game in Edmonton has several other subtexts, Lucic said, not the least of which is that the Flames and Oilers are jockeying for position in the Pacific Division and Western Conference. Calgary is 19-15-5 heading into the Christmas break and Edmonton is 20-16-4.
“It helps (the Battle of Alberta) where both teams are in the standings,” Lucic said. “I think that ramps it up not just a little bit but ramps it up a lot. It’s not just me and James Neal. They’ve got Mike Smith and (Kris) Russell who used to be in Calgary… and we’ve got (Tobias Rieder) and (Cam) Talbot that used to be in Edmonton. So there’s more to it than just me and Neal.
“I’ve seen what Battle of Alberta games are like in Edmonton. My first game opening up the new arena there was against Calgary, and there was a fun one (in Calgary last season) to be sure. So that’s going to make it more than just a game for Albertans to circle on their calendar. I think the whole NHL should be circling that one.”
Here are Five Questions with … Milan Lucic:
How do you think you’ll be received in Edmonton?
“We’ll see. My first year, things went great. Not so great my last year and a half. But the one thing I have to say is that the fans were always good to me there. They never booed me. They always were good to me and appreciated me while I was there, even when I was struggling. I do want to say that about the fans. Maybe at the start (on Friday) they’ll do whatever they want and say whatever, but once you throw a few hits and there are some battles, you obviously become the enemy by nature.”
The offseason must have been a roller coaster of emotions, before and after the trade. How did that go for you?
“It was obviously up and down. I went to Europe for a month, May 18 to June 16, spent 12 days in Italy, four days in Serbia, then jumped around to Cannes, Paris, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and finished off in Bruges, Belgium, to kind of get away from everything. I missed a bit of the [Toronto] Raptors run [to the NBA championship] … but I felt like I just needed mentally to be with my family, my three kids. My in-laws were with me on most of the trip as well, so it was good to not be outnumbered by the kids on the trip. I got to see my brother Jovan and friends and family in Belgrade. He’s lived there since 2012. Mentally, it was about getting away from everything and enjoying life and my family. In Cannes, [I] met up with some friends from L.A. on the water there; don’t think it gets any better than that. When I got back to North America on June 17, I was able to get excited about working out again and looking forward to the next season. I was ready and prepared for anything. I was ready to go back to Edmonton. I was ready to move on, whatever it would be. But mostly it was focusing on myself and getting myself ready.”
You have struggled with scoring the last season or two, but you’ve got three goals now in December. What’s going right for you?
“I’ve been getting a lot of chances this year, and I’ve finally been able to put them in the back of the net. My first two goals, probably even the third one, I haven’t really had to beat the goalie because I’ve had an open net to look at. That helps. Now when you create that feeling, you want to keep it going for as long as you can.”
What can you tell us about the fit you’ve found in Calgary?
“I think I’ve bonded well with the guys on the team right off the hop. It’s a great group to walk into. I think a lot of these guys have been leaning on me and counting on me for advice, on knowing what it takes to make that next step, that type of stuff. Also I was also excited to reunite with [coach] Geoff Ward because we spent seven years together in Boston and won a Cup together (in 2011). He was really helpful for me in my career in my first seven years. I think being able to come into a group with a guy like [Mark Giordano] has been great. He’s a guy that started around the same time I did, and we share a lot of stories and experiences. We talk about the differences in things compared to when we started. I think the younger guys have embraced me and look up to me and put pressure on me to be that role model. I’m doing the best I can for them as well.”
You’ve been placed on a line with Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube that seems to have developed some chemistry. Would you expand on your recent praise for Ryan as something of an unsung veteran?
“I think there are more of those guys in the League than you realize, the guys that don’t get the credit in the media. You don’t see their posters on billboards on the side of the arena when you’re driving up, but then you play with them and you go, ‘Oh, there’s a reason why this guy has been a good player in the League and is still in the League producing the way he does.’ I have a lot of respect for him off the ice as well, how he takes care of himself with his workouts, rolling out and stretching and his nutrition. It’s cool to see a guy take his body as seriously as he does to be able to have no excuses, so he can be the best he can on the ice. He’s a true pro. It’s been a lot of fun being his linemate and his teammate.”