Milan Lucic, shown here with the Bruins in 2015, is back in Boston, this team as a veteran leader. Winslow Townson/Associated Press

Milan Lucic remembers his first preseason game well.

It was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and he had a belly full of butterflies. Luckily, said Lucic, he had crusty veteran Shawn Thornton there to keep him as even-keeled as a teenager could be playing in his first NHL game.

“He did a good job, especially my first year, just calming me down and talking me through things,” said Lucic, who was set to make his 2023 preseason debut Tuesday in Buffalo on a line with young center Marc McLaughlin and veteran tryout Alex Chiasson.

Now, 35 and in his second stint with the Bruins, Lucic fills the Thornton role for younger players and he’s enjoying it. He got taste of it last spring playing for Team Canada at the World Championships.

“I had a real good experience at the World Championships kind of being the older guy and having to take on the leadership role, so I guess I got a lot of good prep there,” said Lucic on Tuesday morning before traveling to Buffalo. “Obviously it ended up being a really great experience and a great tournament because we won the gold and all that. But, yeah, it was a real good learning curve for myself and I’ll try to apply what I learned from that experience into this season.”

While some top NHL players may look at participation in the World Championships as something of an obligation, Lucic was eager to play.


“Part of the reason I reached out to go was because I have the passion to play and I wanted to experience it. I hadn’t had an opportunity like that, an international tournament, so it was something that I wanted to do,” said Lucic. “Just talking to the coaching staff before the tournament even started about what my role was going to be, I was obviously having to take on a leadership role in being an older guy. It was something that I had to take on. But at the end of the day, you talk about passion and all that kind of stuff, it was about having fun again. When you go to tournaments like that, it’s lighter. The mood is a lot looser, even though there is pressure to win, especially when you’re Team Canada. But for me, it was just having fun and getting to experience that, the first half was just the boys and a lot of fun, then adding the families into it as well, being able to celebrate a championship with them was a lot of fun.”

Lucic’s days of being a 20-goal scorer and skating in the top six appear to be behind him. He hasn’t scored more than 10 goals in the last six years. Fourth-line duty is his destination.

But while he signed for his toughness and experience, Bruins Coach Jim Montgomery sees a few things still left in Lucic’s hockey tool bag, including his always underrated passing ability.

“The things that have stood out is he’s really relishing the leadership and mentoring role, which is great. His attitude has been fantastic,” said Montgomery. “And then on the ice, he’s making plays. His ability to make plays in small areas has been very noticeable to me and I think that he’s going to have success with the way we want to play.”

But Lucic doesn’t exempt himself from the fierce battle for bottom six jobs, and he believes it will make him and everyone else around him better for it.

“It’s a competition,” said Lucic with a big smile. “A good thing is having competition within. Even for me, it pushes me to be better and be at my best. As much as you’re in a mentor role, a leadership role, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for yourself as an individual. Inner competition is a really good thing. I think that’s something that’s been here for many years and it just pushes guys to be better.”

AFTER THE GROUP playing Tuesday headed to Buffalo, the Bruins took a look at what could be their power play units. The first PP had Pavel Zacha in the bumper, Charlie McAvoy up top, James van Riemsdyk at net front and Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the wings. The second unit had Morgan Geekie in the bumper, Charlie Coyle at net front, Hampus Lindholm up top and Jake DeBrusk and Kevin Shattenkirk on the wings.

PATRICK BROWN, who left Sunday’s preseason opener after blocking a shot, returned to the ice on Tuesday. Jakub Zboril, who also left Sunday’s game early, could return to the ice on Wednesday, said Montgomery.

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