Leafs may lean on Lupul

Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul skates on the ice against the Devils at the Air Canada Centre in...

Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul skates on the ice against the Devils at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Feb. 10, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:17 AM ET

Seemingly buried on an Anaheim Ducks lineup with established veterans and a coach largely indifferent to his talents, at times this season Joffrey Lupul felt like he was a kid waiting for a chance.

Less than a month later, the ice time is bountiful and suddenly he’s a new man on a new team playing a more emphatic role.

“In Anaheim, I was almost part of the young group on the team,” Lupul said following the Leafs practice Tuesday at the MasterCard Centre. “Then I come here and I’m one of the most experienced guys and counted on for leadership.

“With the Ducks I wasn’t counted on at all with the Selannes and the Koivus an the Getzlafs and guys like that. It’s a different role for me and something I’m really enjoying.

“As it gets more into crunch time, hopefully it will mean even more.”

Though he’s still only 28, Lupul’s NHL experience is more worldly than virtually anyone else on the Leafs roster not named Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

With 39 career playoff games with three different teams, the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., native is certainly battle tested and has far more post-season exposure than any Leafs skater. When general manager Brian Burke acquired him, he wasn’t loading up for an immediate playoff run, but Lupul’s background may end up being a nice fringe benefit of the move.

“It is important to add guys with playoff experience,” Lupul said. “Hopefully if we do make it I can help from that aspect, just as a guy who has been through it.”

He’s been through a lot more than that, of course. Traded from Anaheim to Edmonton to Philly back to Anaheim to Toronto in five seasons has made him a man in search of a hockey home. For whatever reason, a guy drafted seventh overall in 2002 hasn’t had a run of more than two seasons anywhere.

His second stint in Anaheim might have been the worst of those. Plagued by back issues that caused him to miss much of last season and the start of this one, it didn’t appear that coach Randy Carlyle had much confidence in him when 2010-11 dawned.

At the time of the deal that sent Francois Beauchemin from the Leafs to the Ducks three weeks ago, some dismissed Lupul as being the less important of the two assets coming this way. The other player, Jake Gardiner, is a solid college defenceman who was a first-round pick when Burke was running the Ducks.

It’s probably best to stay that verdict for a while now.

Lupul’s scoring touch may have been a little tardy coming around — breaking out with a pair against Pittsburgh on Saturday — but he’s had his chances and has been a valuable addition on a power play that has been benign for lengthy stretches this season.

He’s also been a linemate with Phil Kessel, who is thriving in his hottest stretch of the season right now.

“(Lupul) has really helped Phil’s game and helped our team,” Burke said this week. “He’s a big body with mobility and he finishes checks. I think this is a guy who can help us a lot.”

As for what awaits over the remaining 19 games, Lupul isn’t about to grow the playoff beard just yet. Part of being on a team that has made the playoffs means knowing what it takes to get there.

“The natural thing to do is think of it like it’s the end stretch here, but there’s pretty much a quarter of a season left,” Lupul said. “You can’t sit home every night and watch Carolina and watch the Rangers and hope they lose.

“If we are able to put together a good five-game segment here, who knows? We cut it from eight points to four in the last five games. Who knows, maybe now we can cut it from four to two or three.

“You just slowly chip away at it and leave the scoreboard watching for the end if we need it. You can’t make the playoffs in one game.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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