TORONTO - Joffrey Lupul could have spent a well-deserved break kicking back at his off-season home in southern California.
Instead, the Maple Leafs forward will travel to chilly Ottawa in a couple of weeks, where he’ll participate in the NHL all-star game for the first time in his career.
“It’s an honour to get picked since I never have been before,” Lupul said. “It’s something you look back on at the end of your career and say it was nice to go. It will be a fun weekend.”
Lupul’s linemate, Phil Kessel, also has been chosen to play in the game, the NHL announced on Thursday. The two will join Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who was voted in by the fans.
That Lupul and Kessel were tabbed to play in the game is no surprise, even for those who carry the most anti-Leafs bias. Both have recorded at least one point in 33 games, the most for any NHL player this season. Without the two, the Leafs would not be in a playoff position today.
“I think all three really deserve it,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “It says a lot for the direction our team is going in and the type of season we have had so far. There are no charity picks here. We’re not in the boat where we have to send somebody, where we are having a bad season and somebody gets put on the all-star team. All three guys have played really well this year.”
Kessel has 24 goals and 24 assists in 42 games, which had him in second in NHL scoring through Wednesday. Lupul has 19 goals and 28 assists in 42 games.
One thing to count on: A player other than Kessel will be the last pick at the all-star game draft. Kessel was taken with the final pick when teams were chosen a year ago, and got a hybrid Honda CR-Z as a consolation prize. Kessel kept the car and donated the $20,000 that came with it to charity.
“It’s nice especially now because I get to share it with a couple of teammates,” Kessel said. “You can’t get to something like this without the guys you play with on your team because they make it possible. (What it means is) we have a pretty good squad and we’re having a decent year.”