Joffrey Lupul's Chance at Redemption: Finding His Role with Toronto Maple Leafs

Jon NeelyAnalyst IMarch 31, 2011

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 31:  Joffrey Lupul #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs is congratulated by teamamtes on the bench after he scored a goal in the second period against the Boston Bruins on March 31, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

It wasn't too long ago that Joffrey Lupul was wondering whether or not he had a future in the NHL. 

Now, as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it looks like that future could be a bright one. 

Lupul underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disk in 2009 while on the Anaheim Ducks, and his recovery was expected to take several weeks. Those weeks soon turned into months, though, as Lupul developed a blood infection that brutally attacked his body and sidelined him for almost a year. 

He was at the lowest of lows, as he lost a ton of weight and could do nothing but watch from the sidelines as the infection ate away at him. 

He finally returned to the ice on Dec. 5, 2010 looking to put his long, gruelling recovery behind him. He struggled early on, recording just five goals and 13 points in 26 games before being traded to the Leafs two months later. 

Health-wise, there wasn't much more that could have gone wrong for him, and now on the ice things weren't looking so bright either. 

It looked as if the former three-time 20-goal scorer no longer fit in with the Ducks, and was being dumped in Toronto as a form of cap relief. It looked bad for Lupul. Out a year, and now his team had given up on him. But the trade to Toronto also gave him a new spot to find his game once again, and thus far Lupul has made the most of his new opportunity. 

Coming off his best game of the season Thursday night—where he scored two goals and added an assist against the Boston Bruins—the former seventh-overall pick looks like he's starting to regain his once-potent scoring touch. He's now recorded eight goals and 15 points in the 24 games as a Leaf, and though it's not a huge improvement from the first half in Anaheim, he looks like he's actually found his place.

The Alberta native sits with 13 goals and 28 points on the season (50 games). 

His confidence has returned, and it looks as if he's found some chemistry with Phil Kessel, especially of late. Lupul has six points in his last five games (two goals, four assists) and Kessel is currently riding a six-game points streak (one goal, seven assists). 

The resurgence could be a huge step forward for Lupul, who is signed through the 2012-13 season, as he looks to bounce back fully next season. Lupul's best season was in 2005-06 when he potted 28 goals and 53 points for the Ducks. If he was to reach that level of play again next season, it would be a huge bonus for the Leafs and Brian Burke, who was the GM of Lupul in that season as well. 

He has bounced around the NHL throughout his career, making two stops in Anaheim and one in Philadelphia and Edmonton before arriving in Toronto, but you can bet he's done all the moving he wants to. If there was ever a place for him to fit in, it's with the Leafs. 

A strong finish this season will be a major boost, but next year will be arguably the biggest of his career. Prove he can maintain a high level of play over the duration of the season, and he'll play a big role with the club as a top-six winger. What happens if he isn't able to do that, though, is something he doesn't want to find out-he might find he's quickly running out of options and opportunities.

But so far, so good.

It was somewhat of a risk when the Leafs acquired Lupul earlier this season, but for the 27-year-old, it looks as if he's not only appreciative of the chance at redemption, but also ready to make the best of it.