- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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After back-to-back solid campaigns in his previous two seasons in the NHL, Lucic dealt with hand and ankle injuries that limited him to 50 games during the 2009-2010 season. He never felt like he was healthy, and it began to take a toll both physically and mentally. He made it a point to work hard during the offseason and wanted to make sure he was healthy coming into this season.
Lucic is healthy and productive again, and if Julien were to call Lucic into his office, the message would be a positive one.
"His game right now is as good as it's been," the coach said after the Bruins' 4-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at TD Garden, where Lucic notched a hat trick. "He's pretty confident, and since the beginning of the year, I think he's been as consistent as we've ever seen him."
Julien would tell any observer to pay attention to Lucic's game because he is doing it all.
"He's skating. He's hitting and finishing his checks," Julien said. "He's also playing, what I call, a north-south game: When he's got the puck, he's going straight forward with it. He's creating some room for his teammates, and when he's got an opportunity to take his shot, he's taking it and not looking to pass. That's a great quality he has, and you hope [it] can rub off on other players."
A season ago, Lucic struggled with being consistent because of injury and playing through discomfort. If you asked him, he'd likely tell you he was consistently bad, which made it feel like he had many of those closed-door chats with Julien.
"Last year, I can't count them. I think I had one a week after I came back from my injuries," Lucic said. "I had plenty of them last year, so hopefully I keep myself out of his office this year."
If Lucic continues to play the way he has this season, Julien could paint the walls in his office another 65 times and Lucic would never know it.
The hats were flying for him on Thursday.
When Lucic scored at 14:57 of the third period, many of the 17,565 in attendance wearing hats took them off and tossed them onto the ice in a time-honored tradition after a player nets a hat trick, as Lucic did for his second career three-goal game.
In fact, Boston held a 1-0 lead thanks to Lucic's first-period tally. He then scored a pair of goals in a span of 15 seconds to give the Bruins a 3-0 advantage late in the third period. Teammate Shawn Thornton contributed the fourth goal en route to victory.
It was certainly a team effort, but Lucic's performance stood out, as it has all season.
"He's been great all year," said linemate Nathan Horton, who assisted on all three goals. "He's such a good player. What an unbelievable game by him."
Lucic has five goals and two assists for seven points in the past six games. Overall, he has 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points in 17 games.
"I just feel confident every time I have an opportunity to score," he said. "I'm shooting the puck, so I just need to keep working on it and keep firing as hard as I can."
His goal production this season has already surpassed the nine total goals he scored last winter.
"It's no secret, goals and everything else didn't come easy for me last year," he said. "I'm just happy that I worked hard this year and I'm happy how things are going so far. It's great that I'm having early success, but I need to keep it up and keep pushing for more."
When Lucic spoke after Thursday's game about his office meetings with Julien from a season ago, he wasn't joking about the importance of those one-on-ones.
Only 12 games into Lucic's rookie season (2007-08), the Bruins' second pick (50th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft thought there would be a chance the organization would send him back to juniors. Julien pulled him aside and ensured Lucic that would not be the case. But Lucic was also informed he would be a healthy scratch in a game against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 4, 2007, to watch from the press level and get a bird's eye look at the game.
"As a young guy, there's lots to learn in this league because it is the best league in the world, and sometimes you need a little sit down with the coach just to remind you of who you are," Lucic said.
Current Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin recently learned that lesson, too.
Julien pulled the 18-year-old forward into his office prior to Wednesday's game in New York against the Rangers and gave him a little bit of advice. It paid off, and Seguin has played well the past two games. No doubt he'll continue to have his growing pains in his transition to the NHL level, but all he has to do is witness what Lucic is doing this season to know Julien's advice can only help.
The last thing a coach wants is to lose the attention of his players. Whether it's a rookie or a veteran, a smart coach will pick his spots when it comes to those heart-to-heart conversations -- good or bad.
"You've got to back off players and you've got to let them work through certain things," Julien said. "Sometimes you want to talk to them just for reasons to try to get them back on track and help them out. You see certain things that you can probably help with by having a good conversation with them."
Julien believes in having open communication with his players. He wants them to know where he stands on certain issues, and he's willing to hear their side, too.
"Most of the time, it's either knowing that they can give you more, or they've doing something that's taking away part of their game and they're focusing maybe too much on a certain thing and maybe not enough on other things that they're very good at."
Julien knew it was time to have a chat with Seguin.
"You get to hear where he's coming from, and what he wants out of you," Seguin said.
The coach told the rookie not to forget why the Bruins drafted him and that his offensive skills were important to the success of the team. Julien told Seguin he thought he was focusing too much on his defensive play and was looking for the 18-year-old to produce a more well-balanced game.
Seguin answered with probably his best game all season against the Rangers on Wednesday night, when he scored his fourth goal of the season and his first this month.
"To be honest with you, it was his best all-around game so far this season," Julien admitted on Thursday morning. "So, hopefully he builds on that and we see more of that."
At one point during the second period Thursday, Patrice Bergeron had just served a penalty and returned to the bench when Julien sent the team's top line without the assistant captain. The coach explained after the game he decided to put Seguin between Lucic and Nathan Horton because Bergeron got caught on the ice after his penalty expired, so it was a good opportunity to put Seguin on that line.
"At times, you want to try to make some room for [Seguin], and I think his last couple of games he's been playing pretty good," Julien said. "So you want to kind of reward him, or give him an opportunity to play with those guys."
In Lucic's first couple of seasons in the NHL, he took the advice from his teammates and coaches and has now become an integral part of this organization. This current roster is taking the same approach with Seguin.
"I feel like I'm a part of this team, and I have a key role, too," Seguin said. "I'm just trying to do my best out there and contribute."
If he struggles, Julien's door will be open.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
The approach used to turn around Milan Lucic's game could help Tyler Seguin.