Toronto Maple Leafs: Joffrey Lupul Is the Real Deal

Joe GillenCorrespondent INovember 20, 2011

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 19: Tim Connolly #12, John-Michael Liles #24 and Joffrey Lupul #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Tim Connolly's 400th career goal, against the Washington Capitals during NHL action at The Air Canada Centre November 19, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Can Joffrey Lupul be the player Phil Kessel has been waiting to play with? Since departing from Boston where he played with setup man Marc Savard, Kessel has never really had a top notch player to play with. Yet, Kessel leads the NHL in points with 27 and goals at 14.

Even though Kessel tops the NHL in scoring and points, Lupul isn't far behind him, as he's tied for third in the NHL in points with 24. Lupul has been firing all season. He has at least one point in 15 of Toronto's 20 games and has moved among the NHL's Top Five in scoring. 

With a depleted lineup and a struggling situation in net, the Toronto Maple Leafs have become more reliant on Kessel and Lupul. The Maple Leafs will take their 11-7-2 record into Carolina tonight and play the struggling Hurricanes.

The Leafs are coming off of a 7-1 thrashing of the Washington Capitals last night in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, where Joffrey Lupul had a four-point night. He tallied one goal and three assists on the evening. Lupul has quickly become a leader on and off the ice and a fan favourite.

Lupul has found his stride and seems comfortable in Toronto. Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke acquired Lupul, as well as young, highly-talented defensemen Jake Gardiner from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Francois Beauchmin. The Maple Leafs also acquired a fourth-round draft pick in the 2013 entry draft. 

Burke saw something in Lupul that he liked. It's clear from watching Lupul in game that he's strong on the puck, along the boards and a threat in the offensive zone. The only downside to Lupul's game is that he tends to take lazy penalties at crucial moments and at times allows his emotions to get the better of him.

With that being said, could this be the reason why management gave the assistant captain "A" to defenseman John Michael Liles last night? Not to take anything away from Liles, but could Lupul have been a better candidate?

Wearing a letter on your jersey doesn't mean you're the best player on your team, but these are the players that their peers listen to, who have the swagger, the motivational speeches and tell it how it is and how it should be. They are the voice of reason and the logical thinkers.

Lupul has been leading by example. Lupul is a veteran on this young squad and has taken every opportunity to embrace it and be a leader. Let's just hope Lupul stays healthy to help this young team make the playoffs, something the Leafs haven't done since the 2003-04 season.

Lupul has been dealing with a back injury that has kept him away from the game for a significant amount of time. Last season Lupul split his playing time between Anaheim and Toronto and only played in a total of 54 games all year. 

In the 2009-10 season while playing for the Ducks, Lupul only played in 23 games where he knotted 10 goals and 14 points in a rather frustrating campaign for Lupul. As it stands now, his darkest days seem to be behind him and he's now on pace for his best NHL season yet. 

If the Maple Leafs want to make a run for the postseason, Lupul must keep playing as he has been, and that is keeping his game simple and maintaining his confidence.

Because we all know Toronto can be a difficult market to play in.