In 2002, after posting 56 goals, 106 points and 95 penalty minutes as an 18-year old in his 2nd season with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL, Joffrey Lupul was drafted 7th overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He had a solid rookie year (13-21-34) but broke out the season after the lockout, with a 28-goal, 53-point season and an impressive point-per-game performance in the postseason. A series of trades and injuries saw Lupul drop off the radar over the next few years, and he was further hampered by the fact that he was knocked down the depth charts with some rising young talent in front of him.
When the Leafs traded Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim midway through last season, it was widely assumed by most of us, myself included, that Lupul was merely a throw-in for salary purposes to offset the addition of Beauchemin’s inflated salary. With good reason, too. Lupul had played just 49 games for the Ducks between the start of the 2009-10 season and February 2011 when he was dealt, due to complications from back surgery and a subsequent infection that had sidelined him and threatened his career. Instead of being a fill-in, Lupul proved to be a welcome addition to the team’s offense, instantly finding chemistry with Phil Kessel, and finishing the year with 9 goals and 18 points in 28 games, more than he had totaled in either 2009-10 or 2010-11 with the Ducks.
If nothing else, Lupul’s strong finish to the 2011 season gave him a sense of stability and confidence coming into this season, as he was pretty much guaranteed the wing opposite from Kessel, despite the relative uncertainty about who would be centering them. Whatever fueled his success this year, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Kessel and Lupul are the most dangerous combination in hockey right now, with Phil leading the league in goals and points and Lupul right behind him in either 2nd or 3rd most nights. Let that sink in real quick, because that means that not one, but two of your beloved Leafs have been more productive than guys like Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and the Sedin twins.
What he brings to the Leafs’ top line is a good combination of strong physical presence (6’1, 200+ lbs), decent speed and some surprising skill with the puck. He’s not exactly your prototypical power forward like a Todd Bertuzzi or Tomas Holmstrom, but to play with a speedy winger like Kessel, a big lumbering guy wouldn’t be the best fit. Obviously, as the success they’ve had together so far would indicate, he and Kessel obviously complement each other’s skill sets very well, and that’s the biggest reason behind Lupul’s return to the form that got him drafted 7th overall almost 10 years ago.
As a Leaf fan, it might be selfish to admit that I’m glad he didn’t come into his own until he was in a Leaf uniform, and it’s certainly a shame that he had to endure so many struggles throughout his career, but his hard work is finally paying off for him, and I’m sure there’s no one happier about that than he is.