What sort of historical comparisons do we have for Milan Lucic and what can we expect from him in the proceeding 6 years of his contract?
It seems that for so long the Oilers have been chasing this type of player that many of us may be unfamiliar with forming grounded expectations of him. Indeed, Lucic as a player-type is something of a rare breed.
Previously I had written on Lucic’s performance this season, comparing it with his past seasons and then looking at how his previous linemates had performed both with and without him.
Today I’m going to examine Lucic’s numbers from his 23 year-old season to present (he turns 29 this June 7th) and compare those with the same numbers for a range of other large forwards in the league from their 23 year-old season onwards.
I’ll create the list, find the closest comparable candidates, and then have a look at their performance curve related to age.
I’ve chosen the 23 year-old season to begin with because that is usually the point at which even an elite level forward begins to establish themselves in the NHL, often reaching their peak between the ages of 23 and 25. The idea is to use those other players’ performances from that point as potential indicators for what to expect from Lucic.
In choosing the players I aimed for larger-bodied forwards, preferably, but not exclusively, wingers.
All the players were chosen by using the Corsica database’s skater comparative tool that examines a player’s statistics such as TOI, zone starts, possession metrics, expected goals relative to the team, and points per 60 minutes played.
All shared a greater-than 91% similarity with Lucic in those metrics and from there I limited it down to players who more closely resembled his physical stature (size and/or weight) and who were listed in repeated comparisons over Lucic’s seasons going back to 2010-2011.
The players included in this comparison are Shane Doan, Blake Wheeler, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Eric Staal, Patrick Marleau, Jamie Benn, Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Malone, Nik Antropov, Marian Hossa and Johan Franzen.
First we’ll begin by winnowing that list down to the closest-fit candidates, the players who most nearly match Lucic’s offensive output.
Here are three tables that show the games played, goals per game, assists per game and points per game for those players listed. I’ve put it in reverse order which means that the more offensively potent players are nearer the bottom of the list.
Lucic’s offense isn’t in the elite category. That’s not new and I suspect the Oilers knew that going in. But let’s look at where Lucic ranks by goals, assists and points per game and we’ll see that there are familiar names repeating in the neighbourhood.
Franzen, Antropov, Doan, Bertuzzi all seem to be relatively close comparisons by way of offensive production. Interestingly, Lucic has already passed Franzen’s games played and is set to pass Antropov’s in short order.
With that in mind, let’s contrast Lucic’s more in-depth numbers with Nik Antropov, Shane Doan and Todd Bertuzzi and see what we can find.
I’ve chosen several key markers to track including games played, goals, assists, points, average time on ice per game, corsi %, fenwick %, shooting % and offensive zone starts so we can get an idea of how the player was deployed, how effective and consistent they were, and what sort of offense they brought.
So let’s look at the numbers on three comparable players mentioned above, from the ages of 23 onwards to see what that tells us about how Lucic might age as a player.
Bertuzzi hit his 30s and his play tailed off dramatically. I’m tempted to lay some of this at the feet of the distractions and issues surrounding the Moore incident as he was facing some a civil suit in relation to his assault on the ice during much of this time. However, his ice time drops almost to the level of a 3rd line player when he’s turning 31 years-old and does not recover outside of his one season with the Flames by which time he was 33 years-old.
Doan on the other hand has aged fairly well, and he has remained an effective player up until just this season. In fact, Doan had a career bump between his 35th and 38th years – likely an anomaly amongst most NHL players.
Bertuzzi and Doan have a number of reasonable comparables to Lucic, aside from size and position on the wing, they share some similarities with regards to average time on ice though Lucic’s point totals are the lowest of the three, it is within a range that supports a level of comparison.
Antropov looks like he shares a lot with Lucic based on this chart, one exception that needs to be pointed out however is injury history. Antropov didn’t register a nearly-complete season until his 28th year, following that he managed to remain relatively injury free until his 31 year-old and 32 year-old seasons, by which time I suspect the accumulated wear and tear on his body had degraded his game to the extent that he was no longer the effective player he had been earlier on.
By comparison, Lucic’s career has been noteworthy for his durability, having missed only seven games in the previous five seasons.
Antropov’s numbers, in some regards, bear a similarity to Lucic although Lucic proved himself to be a more offensively gifted player earlier on, having three times cracked or been on the cusp of a 60 point season while Antropov recorded two 60+ point seasons during the entirety of his career.
Based on this information I believe it would be fair to say that Lucic likely will not suffer a massive depreciation of his skills over the term of his contract, provided we keep in mind that those skills are not elite at this time and a production spike for him is likely to be something in the range of 70+ points rather than 80+ . His shooting percentage has remained relatively high for a player with a reputation based more on intimidation than finesse scoring. He has shown himself to be, if not a prime driver of play, at the very least a very competent contributor in that regard.
I do not expect the wheels to fall off Milan Lucic as a hockey player in the next four years. Following that, only time and circumstance will tell as we cannot know the future as it relates to injury, training regimens, and a person’s own physiological aging process. Though I do think it needs to be said that both player comparisons arrived at in this small exercise proved themselves to still be effectual NHL players into the years we can expect to have Milan Lucic.
If I had to make a prediction I would suggest that within a few years’ time Lucic will cease to be a recognizable 1st line left-winger (and he is, regardless of the perceptions of fans based on this one season) and transition into a 2nd line left-winger who could be pushed to a 3rd line position on a team with exceptional depth at that position.
I have little doubt that near the end of that contract he will be overpaid for his on-ice contributions, but given the performance curve associated with athletes, it is an unfortunate necessity of the business that signing some players in their mid to late 20s adopts that risk as part of the deal.