November 21, 2011

Joffrey Lupul : The Great Blue and White Hope !

When you think of the Toronto Maple Leafs right now the 1st name that comes to mind is Phil Kessel. That is for a good reason, as Kessel is leading the NHL in points right now; however, when you dig a little deeper it becomes clear that he isn’t doing this on his own.

Joffrey Lupul might not be as big of a name as Phil Kessel is, but he has definitely made just as big of an impact on the Toronto Maple Leafs. This season with the Leafs, Lupul has 25 points in 21 games, which ranks him 3rd in the NHL for points. He also is in the top ten in other categories as well…5th in assists (15) and 10th in goals (10). If you were to tell me that you believed he would be in the top 10 in all major offensive categories during this offseason, I would have thought you were crazy. But with every game that passes, it is becoming more and more clear that this isn’t just a hot streak, and that he is legitimately becoming a star in this league. If you doubt his consistency, consider the fact that he has points in 16 of the 21 games played so far this year. And if you want proof that he could take over a game, look to the fact that he has 5 multi-point games.

This isn’t something new this season either, as Lupul finished the year strong last season with the Leafs notching 5 goals and 9 points in his last 9 games of the year. What is so incredible about his production with the Leafs right now is the fact that he is doing all of this, after coming back from what many believed to be a career-threatening injury. Lupul suffered a spinal cord contusion a few years back, and he went through back surgery, which resulted in a blood infection. Due to those injuries, he missed 59 games to end the 2009-10 season, and then missed the first 28 games of the next season. After a slow start with the Ducks, Anaheim threw him in essentially as a salary dump packaged with top prospect Jake Gardiner in a trade for Francois Beauchemin. The Leafs were most excited about Gardiner coming over, however, as Lupul seemed like a shadow of his former self that scored 20+ goals in 3 of his 1st 5 seasons. Even though Gardiner has quickly proven to be a great asset, Lupul is the part of that trade that has helped give the Leafs hope of potentially turning things around.

At Lupul’s current pace, it will take him only 44 games this year to beat his career high of 53 points! But it’s not the fact that he is on pace to shatter his career-high’s that has me so excited about him. Why Lupul has been such a great addition to the Maple Leafs, is the impact he has had on the play of Phil Kessel. Before the trade, Kessel hadn’t scored a goal in 12 games, and had only 4 assists over that span. Kessel scored 13 goals, and had 28 points in 28 games with Lupul last season, and even ended the season on a 10 game point streak. In total, Kessel has played 49 games with Lupul as a linemate, in those games he has had 29 goals and 57 points. If you pro-rate that over an entire 82-game season, Kessel would have 49 goals, and 96 points! Could you say SUPERSTAR?!?! In fact with Lupul, he has had points in 38 out of his 49 games! Kessel still may not have a #1 center to play with, but Lupul makes that seem obsolete, as the two clearly have found unbelievable chemistry.  Lupul is finally starting to show why he was drafted 7th overall in 2002, and beginning to display the promise that he showed us when he scored 4 goals in a game for the Ducks in the playoffs vs the Avs, or when he scored the game 7 OT winner vs the Capitals in 2008. After this season, Joffrey Lupul will finally be known as an NHL superstar, instead of just being known as the guy who was traded twice for Chris Pronger. If you doubt how valuable Lupul is to the Toronto Maple Leafs, then go look at the league leaders in points, or just ask Phil Kessel how happy he is to have him as a linemate. So remember the name, because I promise you that this torrid pace Lupul has started the season at isn’t a fluke, and that the potential he showed to become a top 10 draft pick, has finally arrived! Just imagine if Lupul and Kessel actually had a #1 center to play with…if that ever happens, you should definitely get used to these 2 at the top of the points standings.

Grant Robinson
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