Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wranglers forward earns ECHL award

By Anthony Fenech

Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 | 8:59 p.m.

Judging by the way Las Vegas Wranglers forward Ned Lukacevic has played lately, you wouldn't know he been battling a cold.

Still, despite not feeling 100 percent, he has scored in five straight games, tallying seven goals and four assists, and Tuesday he was named Sher-wood Hockey's ECHL Player of the Week.

"I've been sick for the past few days, but honestly, I can't feel it right now," Lukacevic said after scoring two goals in Saturday night's win over Ontario. "It will probably kick in when I get home and the adrenaline wears off, but right now I'm feeling great."

Lukacevic, who has 14 goals and 16 assists this season, said the streak is the product of a different mindset heading into the new year.

"I told myself to stay positive," he said. "I did that, and now I have my confidence. I feel like everything's going well. I'm shooting more and when that's the case, it's easier to play."

The tear began with a first-period goal Jan. 2 against Utah, a goal that would ultimately prove to be the game-winner in the Wranglers fourth-consecutive win.

Since then, he has scored in every Wranglers game of 2010, including back-to-back games of two goals against Ontario last weekend.

His five-game streak ties center Dustin Johner for most consecutive games with a goal for the Wranglers. Johner accomplished the feat in the 2004-05 season.

"He's been playing great," Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We're getting to see how talented that kid is."

This is Lukacevic's first season in Las Vegas after a three-year stint with the ECHL's Reading Royals. The 23-year-old was the 110th pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings in the fourth round.

"He was in a funk," Mougenel said, "And when I say that, I mean he was doing all the right things but wasn't scoring. He's an extremely talented guy and while he's here with us, we're going to enjoy him, because he's a special player."

With the departures of Francis Lemieux and Ryan Weston to the AHL, Lukacevic's emergence has coincided with new line mates in Adam Miller and Jeff Hazelwood.

"It's a great line," Lukacevic said. "We compliment each other well because we're all quick skaters and have good skill. I feel like we're working hard to get the breaks and earn everything we're getting."

Hazelwood, who plays opposite Lukacevic on the right wing, has also increased his production with six points since Mougenel started using that line.

"They have been good offensively," Mougenel said. "But the other lines have done an amazing job of contributing as well."

Speaking like his coach, Lukacevic talks of his individual award by first crediting his teammates.

"I wouldn't be able to score unless the other four guys are working hard," he said. "When I score a goal, the other guys are scoring a goal, too."

While Lukacevic's cold might keep his teammates away from him, his hot play is having the opposite effect.

"Everyone's really confident right now," he said. "It's contagious."

Roster report: Forwards Andrew Orpik and Justin Bernhardt were reassigned to Las Vegas from AHL San Antonio on Tuesday.

Mougenel said both practiced with the team in the morning and will be active for tonight's game against Victoria.

"Obviously, this is a boost for our lineup," Mougenel said. "We've been playing shorthanded and extremely banged up as of late."

He said the move was made to give the pair more of an opportunity to contribute, but injuries throughout the Phoenix Coyotes organization also played a part.

"They're first-year professionals that need to develop and get some more experience down here," he said. "Hopefully they can contribute both physically and statistically."

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