The most underrated player currently in a Leaf Jersey would have to be #19 Joffrey Lupul. Effective in all areas of the ice, the Lupster (trying out the nickname) has managed to keep up over a point per game pace so far through ¼ of the regular season. His play thus far has been overshadowed by that of Phil Kessel, but in the end, some time out of the spot-light may have just been the thing to get Lupul out of his past slumps. Let’s back up a bit before I get into JoffrEye Pupil’s (This one better?... Ok I’ll stop) Leaf overview.
Taken 7th overall in the 2002 draft, coming off a 56 goal effort in the WHL in 2001-2002, Lupul continued his hot play by reaching an impressive 41 goals and 78 points in 50 games in the 2002-2003 WHL season. Lupul was hard-pressed to find any flow to his game once entering the NHL, as he was traded after only two seasons in Anaheim to Edmonton, where he played only one year before being shipped off to Philidelphia for the duration of only two seasons; eventually being sent back to the team that drafted him, Anaheim.
The injury bug soon bit Lupul as he underwent back surgery in 2009-2010, cutting his season short and carrying his recovery time into the following season for 28 games. This ultimately led to the trading of the 28 year old, as his $4.5M contract was just too much to bear for a team so close to the cap, which needed steady play from a player making his money. The trade, which occurred midway through last season, sent Francois Beauchemin to the Ducks and brought back defenseman Jake Gardiner and Forward Joffrey Lupul. Lupul was put on the first line late last season and seemed to gel nicely with Kessel. Like Kessel, this point streak was written off as the Leafs have a habit of finishing on a strong note and not being able to keep up these season ending numbers at the start of the new hockey season.
For once, this wasn’t the case. Lupul has reached 25 points so far this season in just 21 games and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Among his few flashes of creative genius with the puck, Lupul has shown a work effort above many top-line players. How many times this year we have seen Lupul dig the puck out of the skates of 3 opposing players only to make a sloppy, yet fairly accurate pass, to a streaking Kessel who manages to bury another of his league leading 16 goals. This hard work is what has made the first line gel so nicely together. Lupul’s smart play and solid pressure in the offensive zone have enabled him to utilize his line-mates more, as he seems to attract the majority of the opposition’s defensive zone coverage, leaving the ice open for the rest of his team.
While his style of play may not be the flashiest and his 200lbs plus frame aren’t exactly the qualities of your typical PPG player, Lupul has done everything that could be asked of him and more so far this season. While his injury history has been on many people’s minds, he appears to be symptom free from any past injuries, which is a good sign for us in Leaf-Land. GM Brian Burke may have gotten a steal of a deal here, as if he continues to produce with Kessel, this could be a pairing we see for the next several years.
It is nice to keep in mind that all of this has been accomplished so far this season without the luxury of a true first line centre. While Bozak has definitely provided some solid defensive support for the first line, they have yet to benefit from a truly elite play-maker up the middle. I am not a huge fan of tampering with what works, but it is definitely something to look forward to should Burke be able to make a solid addition to place in between Kessel and Lupul. Regardless of when or if this occurs, it is nice to know that Phil-The-Thrill may have finally found the support he needed in Lupul to give us two-thirds of that truly elite line Leaf fans have been dreaming of since the days of… Well… Let’s just say it has been a while.
Here’s hoping to another 61 games of fantastic play Joffrey! Keep up the great work!
Next Blog: No idea yet, but taking a break from Player Review.