Take in a few drills on the chewed-up Garden ice during Boston Bruins training camp, and you'll notice Milan Lucic fighting for pucks in the corner and planting his huge frame in front of the net. Nothing different from his rookie season.
But peer around at his linemates this time around, and you'll see just how much things have changed in a year.
With Marc Savard in the middle and newly acquired Michael Ryder on his right side, Lucic has come a long way from being just another youngster invited to training camp last September.
"This year is a different situation for me," Lucic said over the weekend after his second full practice session. "Last year going into camp, I didn't know where I would end up."
Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning agreed. "Last year, Milan came to training camp, and we really didn't have him penciled in to make the team," he said. "But as camp progressed, he played so well, he kind of forced our hand to make room for him."
Lucic made the regular-season cut last fall and began the year as a fourth-line left winger. Nine games in, the Bruins had a decision to make: keep Lucic on the roster and pick up the first year of the three-year entry-level contract that counts for junior-eligible players after they've played 10 games in the NHL, or send him back to his junior team before his contract kicked in.
Needless to say, the Bruins held on to him, and Lucic made his presence felt as one of the team's top forwards by the end of the year (8-19-27).
This time around, demoting Lucic isn't an option, making his second training camp much less stressful.
"It just helps my confidence," said Lucic, knowing he's locked in for a spot on the team. "For me, it's working hard to put myself where I want to be in the lineup. That's the key thing for me this time around."
Bruins coach Claude Julien separated this past weekend's training camp into three different sessions. Groups A and B consisted of 46 combined skaters, with the remaining nine rookies taking the final practice.
Lucic skated with Savard and Ryder on both days, making for a formidable top line to be tested over the next two weeks of the preseason.
Lucic also expects to see more time on the power play in 2008-09, building off last season's positive finish.
"The big thing for me on the power play is just to create traffic, and get in there and retrieve the puck," he said. "That's what they expect of me, and I know that's something I do well. It comes down to hard work and determination. Creating traffic around the net, trying to make tips and make it hard on the goalie, that's my job."
"He's more mature and more confident," said Julien of Lucic's second training camp. "You can see that he feels more comfortable at this level. Last year he was feeling his way through, and he earned a lot of respect through his play and effort.
"But he's still the same person I met last year," added Julien. "I don't think much is going to get to his head. He's pretty grounded, and he's going to stay that way, but no doubt, on the ice you see a guy that's more confident."
Shots on goal
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli announced Monday that 10 players had been released from training camp. Scott Fletcher, Kevin Nastiuk, Levi Nelson, and Wacey Rabbit will report to the Providence Bruins. Jamie Arniel (Sarnia), Michael Hutchinson (Barrie), and Denis Reul (Lewiston) will return to their respective junior clubs, and Yuri Cheremetiev, Arthur Fritch, and Doug Krantz were released from their amateur tryout agreements ... The remaining 45 players are currently in Nova Scotia, playing three preseason games in four nights. The Bruins defeated the Canadiens on Monday night, 8-3, and fell to the Islanders, 2-1, in overtime on Tuesday. With just a practice on Wednesday, the Bruins have back-to-back games against the Red Wings (Thursday in Halifax and Friday night in Detroit) before coming back home for their fifth preseason game in six days, hosting the Capitals at 4 p.m. at the TD Banknorth Garden.
Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports