Name: Chaz Lucius
Team: USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USHL)
Position: Center/Right wing
Stats: 12 games played, 13 goals, 5 assists, 18 points, 6 PIMs, +6 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 12th (North American skaters)
Comparable NHL players: Sean Monahan / James van Riemsdyk
Scoring goals is arguably the hardest thing to do in the sport of hockey, so if you can do it at a high level then teams are going to covet you.
Chaz Lucius, a forward with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, has elite upside as a goal-scorer, and that makes him one of the top prospects available in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, despite injury concerns and some limitations with his game.
To put it bluntly, there are few prospects in this draft class who are as dangerous as Lucius at shooting the puck from anywhere in the offensive zone. His shot has excellent power and accuracy behind it, his release mechanics are smooth and clean, and he needs very little time to fire pucks once they arrive on his stick. He also has enough puck skill to dust the rubber and make a move or two in traffic to open up a better shooting lane for himself. Even better, he has a natural feel for the flow of play in the offensive zone, which allows him to get a step ahead of opposing defenders or find quiet parts of the ice where he can receive passes.
Lucius isn’t the biggest forward, but he’s solidly built and strong on his skates, and he combines those attributes with plus puck protection. He’s definitely at his best in the offensive cycle, as he can dig pucks out of board battles and carry them safely towards the net or move them along to a teammate. He is also hard to move from the net-front, which makes him even more dangerous as a scorer in-tight when you combine that with his sense, his quick release, and some really nice hand-eye coordination. Garbage goals still count as goals, after all. He can also be effective from time to time on the rush, able to score from distance, so long as he has enough time and space.
Speaking of time and space, therein lies an area that Lucius will need to work on moving forward. As much success as Lucius has had scoring thus far in his career, averaging a goal-per-game last season and in prior years at lower levels, there are some questions about whether he will have trouble translating that to higher levels because of issues that he has creating time and space for himself.
His skating is simply not a strength for him in any way, whether that be his top speed or his agility and elusiveness. It’s not impossible for slower players to create time and space for themselves in the offensive zone, but this is usually done using size and reach (à la Jason Robertson), tenacious intensity and competitiveness (à la Matthew Tkachuk), or some combination of the two. For a player with Lucius’s skating drawbacks, you’d like to see him be a little harder and more applied in his puck battles. As mentioned earlier, he can still find open ice that is available and then convert when the puck comes to him, but you always want your offensive stars to have the ability to regularly create something for themselves out of nothing, instead of usually having to rely on their teammates. These same limitations also prompt the question whether Lucius will be able to play center at higher levels or if he will be better suited to the wing.
Making matters more precarious with Lucius, and perhaps the biggest X factor with him, is the serious knee surgery and recovery that he went through within the past year. He had pain in his left knee two seasons ago, underwent surgery last summer, and then resumed play this past year as soon as he was recovered enough to do so, in the winter. The situation begs different questions: Lucius wasn’t considered a particularly good skater before his surgery, but how much of that was due to pain that he was experiencing then? Is his knee fully fixed now, leading to the possibility that he can add a lot more speed and explosiveness to his skating? Is there a risk of the knee problem flaring back up again in the future?
Scouts were really looking forward to watching Lucius at the IIHF U18s in Texas in April and May to hopefully answer some of the questions surrounding him, after he had more time to shake off some of the rust that he still had when he joined the national program mid-season, but alas, a virus kept him out of the tournament. NHL teams will definitely have to be extra diligent in their research on Lucius, talking to him and his coaches and — if possible — his doctors to get a better idea of what to expect with his health moving forward into the future.
As said at the start of this article, it’s hard to find players who can score goals and NHL teams covet guys who can do it elite proficiency. Lucius will undoubtedly go in the 1st round of the 2021 draft thanks to his special calling card, but will that be in the Top 10, in the 20s, or somewhere in between?