He is a skilled player with a good offensive upside, capable of around 20-30 goals a season. Lupul has good hockey sense and a nose for the net, although he sometimes avoids high traffic areas more than he should.
Drafted seventh overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002, Lupul was always known for his offensive upside. He had 56 goals and 106 points in 72 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL in his draft year. He was the fourth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. The next year in junior, he had 41 goals and 78 points in only 50 games. In 2003-04, Lupul made the jump to the Mighty Ducks, finishing fifth in team scoring with 34 points in 75 games.
The next year was wiped out by a lockout, and Lupul used the work stoppage to hone his game with the Ducks’ AHL team in Cincinnati. He led the team in scoring as a 21-year-old, putting up 30 goals and 56 points in 65 games. That led to Lupul’s breakout year with the Ducks in 05-06, when he scored 28 goals and 53 points for a team that made it to the Western Conference Final. At only 22 years old, it looked like Lupul was well on his way to becoming a top NHL scorer.
Then came the trade.
The Ducks pulled off a blockbuster with the Oilers, trading Lupul, Ladislav Smid, two first-round picks and a second-round pick for Chris Pronger. The Ducks would win the Stanley Cup the next year and Lupul would have a very disappointing year with the Oilers. He was shipped out the following offseason to the Flyers, where he put up two straight 20-goal seasons.
In the summer of 2009, Lupul was traded in another blockbuster involving Chris Pronger, making his return to the Ducks. He played only 49 games the next two seasons, struggling with a serious back injury that required surgery. At 27 years old, it looked like Lupul’s best days as an NHL player were over. The Ducks obviously felt the same way, throwing Lupul in along with high-end defense prospect Jake Gardiner in a trade for 30-year-old Francois Beauchemin with the Leafs.
Looking back on that trade now, it looks like things turned out pretty well for the Blue & White. Beauchemin is a very good defenseman, even garnering some Norris Trophy chatter last year, but at 33, he’s clearly on the downslope of his career. Gardiner, on the other hand, is one of the Leafs’ top young players, firmly established in the top four as a 22-year-old. And then there’s the emergence of Lupul to consider.
Lupul’s first full season as a Maple Leaf also turned out to be the best of his career so far, scoring 67 points in 66 games. Head coach Ron Wilson gave Lupul top-line minutes alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, and Lupul thrived. According to Hockey Analysis, Lupul spent around 89 per cent of his ice time in 2011-12 playing with Kessel. His goals-for percentage with Kessel was 51 per cent, compared to only 36.4 per cent apart. His corsi-for percentage was at 49.6 with Kessel but only 39.4 apart.
Clearly much of Lupul’s success came from playing with Kessel, just as James van Riemsdyk has benefitted from playing with the Leafs’ $64-million man. Still, Lupul’s scoring binge continued last season playing mainly with Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin, albeit in only 18 games. His friction with Randy Carlyle back in his Anaheim days have been greatly publicized, but clearly the two have made amends.
Lupul and Kadri have remained a steady duo on the Leafs’ second line, and their roles on the team are very important. While Kessel and van Riemsdyk draw the opponents’ top defensive unit on most nights, Lupul and Kadri are leaned on to pick up the scoring slack, and they haven’t disappointed. Lupul is tied for third in team scoring this year with 10 points in 10 games, while Kadri is tied for fifth with nine in 12.
Injuries remain a concern with Lupul, after he suffered a broken arm and a concussion at separate points of last season. He’s missed the last two games after taking a slap shot off the foot in practice, but that’s not expected to keep him out much longer. It’s worth wondering if Lupul’s injuries will worsen now that he’s approaching the wrong side of 30. But it’s clear Lupul has become a leader on this Leafs’ team, and is playing with a newly discovered confidence he was missing through much of his career. This string of outstanding play may not continue for much longer, but we’re sure going to enjoy it while it’s here.