Joffrey Lupul: How the Toronto Maple Leafs New Addition Gives Them Playoff Hopes

Jon NeelyAnalyst IFebruary 20, 2011

He's only been a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs for five games, but so far it's looking like Joffrey Lupul may play a bigger role than originally expected.  

Earlier this month, Lupul, along with Jake Gardiner and a conditional draft pick, came over to the Leafs from the Anaheim Ducks in a trade that saw Francois Beauchemin head back the other way. 

The deal was mostly focused on the future for GM Brian Burke, but because he needed a current roster player as well, Lupul was included, and has fit in nicely. 

He's missed the majority of the past two seasons due to injury, and was largely a salary dump by the Ducks, but the 27-year-old is out to prove he hasn't lost a step with his new team. 

He's been placed on a line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel, and in doing so has added a bit of size and grit to a top unit that usually relies more on puck movement and speed. The 6'1", 206-pound winger isn't a big player by NHL standards, but he packs more of a punch than the rest of his trio, and thus has been a welcome addition. 

His work in the corners and behind the net has not only made the first line more difficult to play against, but it frees up more space for his teammates; especially Kessel. 

In the five games since Lupul's arrival, Kessel has three goals and four points, and is clearly getting more opportunity to score-after his much-publisized 14-game goalless streak. 

Kessel was averaging 4.2 shots per game before Lupul played on the opposite side. But with 27 shots in the five games since, he's averaging 5.4 shots, including a nine-shot performance against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. 

His 256 shots are second only to Alex Ovechkin (277) this season. 

The question since Kessel showed up in Toronto has been whether Burke can find him a center to feed him the puck. We're nowhere closer to getting an answer to that, but in the meantime, the gritty Lupul has performed pretty well. 

All three of Lupul's assists as a Leaf have been on Kessel goals. 

In order for this club to win, Kessel needs to be producing. If injecting Lupul onto that line does continues to help that, it has to be looked at as a success. 

So far, so good anyway. 

The club has recorded points in four of the five games, going 2-1-2. 

Lupul's game is extremely similar to that of recently-traded Kris Versteeg, though Lupul is the tougher player to play against physically, and may be why he's working out better on the top line than Versteeg did. 

While losing Tomas Kaberle along with Versteeg and Beauchemin in the past two weeks is a huge blow to the Leafs' playoff chances, all hope is not lost just yet. 

With 23 games left they're seven points out of eighth-place, with three teams standing in their way. A tough task, but a much better chance than you might have expected they would have had two months ago. 

And a first line finally clicking, along with the always-seem-to-be-great trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur, makes winning much less difficult for this club. 

Throw in James Reimer's continued great play, and the only question remaining for this club is whether a depleted defense core can withstand the pressure over the final two months of the season. 

And if the power play will ever score again without the quarterbacking of Kaberle. 

It may be too little, too late for the Leafs once again this season, but the playoff hopes aren't dead yet as the club fights to catch the teams in front. 

While Lupul has added some punch to the first line so far, even if his addition doesn't result in postseason play this year, the prospects and draft picks acquired in Burke's other moves would suggest that there will be more successful playoff runs in the future. 

A future that's starting to look brighter.