Why Milan Lucic is a very interesting pending UFA

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It’s not often that an empty-net goal catches my attention, but Saturday in Los Angeles, one did.

The Kings were leading the Penguins, 4-3, late in the third. Pittsburgh had pulled the goalie for the extra attacker.

All of a sudden there was a loose puck at center ice.

That’s when Milan Lucic began his charge:

For a guy who’d supposedly lost a step, it was a pretty impressive burst of speed and power.

Lucic had also scored earlier in the game.

“I thought that line’s effectiveness was because of Looch,” coach Darryl Sutter told LA Kings Insider. “Really, the empty-net goal is the very same goal as the wristshot goal. It’s a power move. Not many guys can do that.”

Lucic scored again Sunday against Tampa Bay, his 10th of the season. He now has as many goals as guys like Claude Giroux, Corey Perry, Alexander Steen, James Neal and Patrick Sharp. His two linemates, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, have the most points on the Kings, with 26 and 20, respectively. Lucic is third, with 18.

The 27-year-old is also — and here’s the fun part — a pending unrestricted free agent. He’s said he’d “love” to stay in Los Angeles, but with Anze Kopitar also a pending UFA, and with the salary cap not expected to go up by much, it may be hard for the Kings to keep him.

Which is to say, don’t expect those Vancouver rumors to die down anytime soon. In August, Lucic called playing for his hometown Canucks “a dream of mine since I’ve been a kid.”

The two big questions for any interested team will be how much to pay him, and for how long. Because despite his good play of late, there are still some definite red flags. For starters, a shooting percentage this season of 23.3. Probably not sustainable over the long run. You also have to wonder about his durability. He’s a physical player with a ton of hard miles on his body.

But regardless of those red flags, he’s sure not hurting his value right now. The Kings are rolling, and he’s a big, powerful reason why.