Lupul has new life in T.O.
A lot has changed since Oilers days
DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul waits for a face-off against the Ducks at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 27, 2011. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Reuters)
TORONTO - This isn’t the same Joffrey Lupul the Edmonton Oilers had a brief love-hate relationship with.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ version, is older, more mature and healthier. He’s also an NHL All-Star, and the type of player expected to develop into, having been selected seventh overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
“A lot of it is just being healthy,” said Lupul, prior to facing the Oilers Monday. “I went a couple of years without being 100% healthy. To be back and to be 100% is a big confidence boost for me and I’m getting the opportunity to play a big role on this team.”
Lupul, 28, spent a tumultuous year with the Oilers, having been acquired in the deal that sent Chris Pronger to the Anaheim Ducks following the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2006.
Having scored 28 goals the previous season, the Fort Saskatchewan product was expected to score at a similar rate, but unable to match the production with his hometown club, finishing with 16 goals and 12 assists.
The Oilers decided to move Lupul at the end of the season sending him to Philadelphia in a deal that saw Joni Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson and a third-round pick come back the other way.
Lupul eventually returned to Anaheim, where a serious back injury limited his playing time and jeopardized his career.
From there, he was sent to Toronto, where he’s blossomed into an elite player, heading into Monday’s game with 20 goals and 54 points in 52 games.
“He’s healthy, but he’s also changed a lot of things,” said Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson. “Young players sometimes don’t take themselves seriously or take the easy way out in the weight room or in terms of preparation. But I think he’s matured and he follows a different (training) regimen all together.
“He works hard and with us he plays left wing and not right. He’s never had that opportunity before, but he’s embraced it and worked hard at it and has had some good chemistry with Phil (Kessel), which has helped him out too.”
Kessel and Lupul are tied for the team scoring lead with the Leafs. The two have become one of the most dangerous duos in the league.
“He’s a guy that is really creative offensively and a guy that you have to get the puck to as much as possible, because he can do some things that not many guys in the league can do,” Lupul said. “My job is to try and do what I can, try and win battles along the boards and get to the front of the net. That’s where the majority of my success has come, just going to the net and trying to make plays from there.”
Prior to this season, Lupul’s greatest success had come in the relative obscurity of Anaheim, where few outside of the arena knew who he was.
Yet despite struggling in his hometown where Oilers fans have been known to quickly turn on one of their own, Lupul is thriving under the bright spotlight in Toronto.
“This is the centre of the hockey universe,” he said. “It’s fun. It seems like every game is a big game, no matter who’s coming to town, there’s always an interesting story line or something is going on. Then when we go on the road, there are a lot of Leafs fans, it’s a fun place to play. Every time you come to the rink there’s something going on and you’re not going to get bored here, that’s for sure.”