Aaron Luchuk had a rough end to the 2019-20 season.
Through mid-February 2020, Luchuk was riding high as a member of the first place Newfoundland Growlers, one goal shy of 20 on the season and clipping along at over a point-per-game pace through 45 games.
Then, in an instant, his season was thrown into upheaval. He was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Ottawa Senators and assigned to their AHL club in Belleville. He barely had time to unpack his suitcase before being traded yet again only four days later from the Senators to the Montreal Canadiens and assigned to Laval in the AHL.
Luchuk appeared in just one game in Laval before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the premature end to the ECHL and AHL seasons.
So how did Luchuk fare in his bounceback 2020-21 campaign? He just won the ECHL scoring title.
As a member of the Orlando Solar Bears, the Kingston, Ontario native enjoyed his finest season as a professional, finishing the campaign with 28 goals and 74 points in 72 games played, three points ahead of his nearest competitor.
An impressive feat, considering the sheer quantity of unknowns heading into the season.
“I really had no expectations of what this year was going to be like when I first came down here to Orlando,” Luchuk said.
“I just knew that when this league started up, it was the only league that was playing at that point. I really had no clue what to expect. The year went as smoothly as it could have possibly gone. I think the league did a really good job doing the best they could to pull off a good year. Looking back, I’m very happy with how everything went.”
Playing professional hockey in a pandemic-impacted season is no easy task. Adjusting to new protocols and dealing with quarantines and lockdowns could very easily have an adverse impact on a player’s on-ice performance.
But not Luchuk’s.
So, what was behind Luchuk’s massive season? How was he able to rise to the top among the deepest pool of talent perhaps ever assembled in the ECHL?
A combination of a nurturing coaching staff, a new role, and a whole lot of god-given talent.
“When coming down here to Orlando, I was given more of a pure role to produce,” Luchuk said.
“First line, first power play. More points kind of come with that. I played with some great players down here. The coaching staff, with Drake Berehowsky and Jared Staal, they were really good to me. Once I got comfortable down here in the system, I really started to produce a lot more. I was able to carry that through this whole season. I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish individually. I would have liked for our team to go a little further and make the playoffs, but with less teams making the playoffs, it was very tough. It was a good year overall. I’ll look back on this one with a lot of pride.”
This season isn’t Luchuk’s first time wearing the scoring titleholder’s crown. In his final year of junior hockey as a member of the Windsor Spitfires and Barrie Colts in 2017-18, Luchuk outlasted 2017 first-round picks Morgan Frost and Nick Suzuki, as well as Calder Trophy hopeful Jason Robertson and took home the title with an eye-popping 115 points in just 68 games.
So which scoring title is more meaningful to Luchuk?
“I wouldn’t say one means more or less than the other,” Luchuk chuckled.
“Being able to do it at two different levels now in three or four years is very cool and it’s nice to look on the resume and see those. To know that I was able to produce at the junior level and now at the pro level, is nice. Scoring goals and getting assists, that’s not an easy thing to do regardless of where you play. To get those two accolades in two leagues is very cool.”
Even with his tumultuous end to the 2019-20 season-long behind him and a new scoring trophy to place on his mantel, Luchuk admits he still thinks about how that season unfolded and wonders ‘what could have been’ about his truncated stint with the Growlers.
“I fully loved my time in Newfoundland,” he said fondly.
“Loved everything about it; the people, the team, the staff, the entire organization. It was very unexpected and sad when I got traded. It happened during the middle of a game too. I felt comfortable in Newfoundland. I was excited to go on a playoff run. It hit me pretty hard when I was packing up and leaving.”
But just because he was traded away, that doesn’t mean his Newfoundland experience was tainted in any way. Regardless of where his career may take him next, Luchuk is already planning his next trip back to the Rock.
“I didn’t have any clue what I was walking into when I first joined the Growlers,” he reminisced.
“I’m hoping to come back there when everything opens up again and just be a tourist for a little bit. I had been to Newfoundland to play against the Growlers in their first year. I had been to St. John’s but I had no idea what it was like to live out there or how the people were or anything like that. I went in with an open mind and fell in love with the city very quickly. I still talk to a lot of guys I played with there, like Todd Skirving, Giorgio Estephan, and Zach O’Brien. I still keep in pretty regular contact with those guys. Even some guys from St. John’s that I met through Zach. Overall, I couldn’t say enough good things about the city and the province. I always tell people if you are ever thinking about going to St. John’s or Newfoundland, just to see it, just do it. It’s an absolutely beautiful part of the country.”