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Lupul Hopes To Get Back On Track With Leafs

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Joffrey Lupul wants to prove he is a worthy player to his old team, to his new team, and to everyone in between.

The Leafs acquired Lupul and promising collegiate defenceman Jake Gardiner for defenceman Francois Beauchemin. The Ducks threw in a conditional draft choice based on how many games Lupul plays.

The 27-year-old Lupul, the seventh overall pick in 2002, has been beset by injuries. Last season brought two back surgeries and a corresponding infection that decimated his health and prompted concern that he would not return to the ice.

Despite a streak of only one goal in his last 14 games with Anaheim, Lupul feels he can better his previous production. He has enjoyed 28, 25 and 20-goal seasons.

“That’s where I see myself. I am just getting myself back in shape. I feel great. Every night feels better. My goal is to bring a two-way game and score some goals.”

In Anaheim, Lupul was sometimes stuck behind Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and sometimes Bobby Ryan. He was clearly hurt there was no room for him with the Ducks.

“I didn’t get the opportunity,” he said. “I would have loved to play for Randy (Ducks coach Randy Carlyle)."

Leafs GM Brian Burke admits he doesn’t really know what he acquired. Lupul has impressive playoff cred: he once scored nine goals in 16 post-season games for the Ducks and he has 14 goals in 39 playoff games.

“You bet on people every time you make a deal,” Burke said. “I bet on Joffrey Lupul because of his character and his skill level.”

Burke said his back injuries and infections weren’t a factor.

“He was cleared to play. He is still on antibiotics but that is standard procedure.”

Last fall Lupul was diagnosed with a herniated disk. A microdiscectomy in which a small portion of the disk is removed was performed in December. When the pressure on the spine did not abate, surgeons performed the procedure a second time.

In February doctors found an infection in the surgical area. Lupul was treated with intravenous antibiotics for six weeks, and follow-up tests determined the infection hadn’t been quelled. He spent two weeks in bed and was fed three antibiotics intravenously. His weight plummeted from 206 pounds to 170.

Despite that nightmare, he is confident that he can produce immediately for the Leafs who sit eight points out of the playoffs.

“I’m confident I can play at the level I was playing before all this stuff happened. My body has reacted really well. I can’t think of anything more rewarding that helping this team make the playoffs.”

Observers say there is much to like in Lupul. Not an outstanding skater or defensive player, he is passable at both. He is far from a grinder but he can score. His best position is right wing and he will start there beside Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur Thursday when the Leafs play the Devils.

In Beauchemin, the Leafs lose their top minute-eating defenceman. It was a role in which Beauchemin often struggled; his best years came as a complementary player with Chris Pronger. Still, the Ducks saved about $400,000 in the exchange and reacquired a veteran rearguard with strong leadership qualities. The Leafs, meanwhile, got younger, Lupul is three years younger than Beauchemin, and the smooth-skating Gardiner has an excellent future.

As soon as they clear a roster space the Leafs will call up 21-year-old defenceman Keith Aulie. Aulie is six-foot-five and 217 pounds and Burke projects he will become a top-four defenceman. Burke acquired him in the Dion Phaneuf deal.

“We expect him to be here for a while,” he said.

With the trading deadline still 19 days away, Burke insists there will be more deals.

Defenceman Tomas Kaberle is playing some of his best hockey and has swelled his value, but Kaberle’s no-trade clause will once again come into play.

Goalie J.S. Giguere will be a free agent at season’s end but the return of goalie Ray Emery to American League and the holding pattern of former San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov is muddying the water.
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