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Lupul welcomed home in Edmonton

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers

Lupul shows off his new Oilers colours with GM Kevin Lowe on the day of his signing last month

Lupul scoring his third of the season on Red Wings netminder Dominik Hasek this past Saturday

by Marc Ciampa

Joffrey Lupul is one of the leagues rising stars. Last season, he enjoyed a breakout campaign during which he scored 28 goals and had 53 points in only his second full season in the NHL. This year, he has three goals and five points through eight games with the Oilers.

Raised in Fort Saskatchewan, minutes away from Rexall Place, Lupul grew up rooting for the Oilers. His parents were season ticket holders and he was often seen in the stands cheering for his team.

But the connections between Lupul and his hometown team run even deeper than that. Lupul's grandfather, Tom Mayson, is also part of the Oilers' ownership group. Last season, some of Lupuls family was torn because his Ducks were facing the Oilers in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now there will no longer be a dilemma because Lupul has come home.

Joffrey, can you talk about what happened the day that you found out that you were traded to the Oilers?

It was a little bit surprising. I was out at Sylvan Lake in my cabin out there. Slept in a little bit and when I woke up I had about 15 messages, including from Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe.

After you realized you were traded, was it a slow process to adjust to the fact that you were moving to a new community to continue your professional career?

It wasnt a slow process at all. I mean, Im moving back to my home. Im around some of my buddies and all the other guys have really welcomed me with open arms. The first day I met Steve Staios, he asked me if I wanted to move into his basement. I think he was serious. Im not sure, but I think he was serious. All the guys are great here.

Being from nearby Fort Saskatchewan, what were your thoughts about coming to Edmonton?

At first, it was just a feeling of shock. I was really surprised – I hadnt heard any rumours or anything. As the summer went on, I just kept getting more and more excited. Talked to some of the guys here, talked to lots of my friends and family who were so excited to have me here. As the summer went on, I started getting a little more prepared. You start to get refocused on hockey after taking a couple months off to recharge. I started to focus on the next season and I just got real excited.

Can you talk about growing up in Fort Saskatchewan? Literally a 20-minute drive to Rexall Place.

I grew up just like any other kid here who loves the Edmonton Oilers. I was fortunate enough to have season tickets and get to go to lots of the games. I was at those great playoff series when they played the Dallas Stars all those years and thats pretty special. I was here last year on the other end of that, playing against the Oilers. Its a big thrill to play in this building every time for me. Im really looking forward to the day I get to come on the ice there as a member of the Oilers and get to hear the crowd how it was in the playoffs.

It mustnt have been too much of a stretch when you first pulled on that Oilers jersey.

Ive had the jersey on plenty of times. I was at the games watching the Oilers play the Dallas Stars and things like that but it feels pretty good to have it on with my name and number on the back.

In addition to playing for your favourite team growing up, youll also be able to play in front of friends and family almost every night. Can you talk about what that means to be able to play so close to home?

Its a good opportunity for me to play in a place that Ive dreamed of playing. Its also special to have the opportunity to play in front of your mom and your dad, your grandparents. I have two younger brothers and itll be special for them to come to all the games. I think everyones pretty excited about that.

Do you think that playing at home might be a bit more of a distraction? Obviously with so many friends and family, there will be a lot of requests for tickets on a nightly basis.

Its something that youve got to monitor yourself. Kevin Lowe told me this: sometimes it can get to be a little too much and you have to know when to say no to people – theres no tickets tonight or cant do that. If you keep doing it, it might wear you out a little bit. I am home and have a lot of friends and family but number one Im an NHL hockey player and thats what Ive got to focus on. Sometimes friends and family have to be pushed to the backburner and youve got to focus for the game.

It must have also helped the transition to a new team knowing that the Oilers had done so well the year before.

Absolutely. When I got traded, the first thing is I knew I was getting traded to a place that was committed to winning. Coming here, obviously everybody knows about last year – they were one game away. I think for myself and Anaheim last year, to have a good run like we did, it makes you that much more hungry.

As a one-shot scorer on a team filled with offensive players and playmakers it seems that youre a natural fit for this lineup.

Its great. For an offensive player, its a great place to be. Look at some of the playmakers like Hemsky, Horcoff and Stolly (Jarret Stoll). Its exciting for me to play with guys who are passers and playmakers.

How long did it take before you started to realize that this might be a really good fit for you, considering the depth of offensive talent, the good ice and the Oilers style of play?

I knew right away it would be a good fit. I watched the team beat us in the playoffs. Its a pretty promising team. With all the offensive talent theyre definitely going in the right direction. When I found out it was Edmonton I was excited because we have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Could you describe your style of play? In Anaheim you were on the third line with Todd Marchant for a good portion of the year, although you saw a lot of first-unit power play time. How do you see yourself fitting into this lineup?

In Anaheim they had me penciled in as more of a net-front type guy but that had a lot to do with Teemu Selanne. Here, Im more comfortable having the puck on my stick instead of in front of the net. I feel like I can contribute either way – go hard to the net and get goals that way or stay to the outside and shoot it.

Was there any sort of adjustment period when you first stepped on the ice with your new Oiler teammates? Did it take some time to develop some chemistry?

Its not really anything new for me because usually in the summers Ive always come back to Edmonton and always ended up skating with all those guys so other than a couple guys they acquired last year and some of the young guys, Ive had the opportunity to meet and skate with the guys before. It was good to get out there and get a feel for each player.

Which players do you find yourself hoping you play with and starting to develop some cohesion? It seems coach MacTavish has you pegged for some time with Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff as well as first-unit power play time but there will be some competition for ice time.

This team has so many good offensive players, it seems like Im finding chemistry with everyone. Guys like Hemsky, who is obviously an unbelievable talent. Horcoff is a great player, too and Jarret Stoll has really come into his own the last couple years. Then we have a guy like Petr Sykora who I played with in Anaheim. Hes a great player who always manages to score big goals. I think there are a lot of options as far as who they want to play with who. I think no matter how we do it, were going to be successful.

You made a big jump last season, scoring 28 goals with Anaheim after netting 13 in your rookie year. With more responsibility and ice-time in 2006-07, what are your expectations coming into the season?

I dont really set a lot of goals for myself as far as goals and assists go, but Im 23 years old and right now Im a guy whos got to keep improving every time he gets out there. I have a lot to learn, but that being said Im a guy who will contribute. Im confident I can step in and score on a regular basis but there are some aspects of my game that I want to improve. Thatll take a little bit of work but youre not going to score every game and I know that. There will be those stretches of four or five or six games when you dont score and I think those times, its important for me to do other things well.

Even though you dont have any numbers in mind in terms of output for this season, do you put any more pressure on yourself knowing that you were traded for a player like Chris Pronger?

Who? Oh the big guy, 44. Yeah, Ive heard about him. Hes obviously a great player and everyone knows hes a great player. Hes the type of player you cant replace because he plays a ton of minutes and is one of the top guys in the league but I also know what I can do. I can come here and help this team offensively. I can score a lot of goals and be a guy thats going to keep improving for a long time. Whereas Chris is kind of at his peak, Im 10, 12 years young and bring a lot of energy and offence to the team. I cant worry about what Chris is doing in Anaheim and what Chris did here last year. Hes gone now and Im here and Ive got to play to the best of my ability.

Is it also easier because you play a different position than Pronger?

Its a completely different position. For me, its not about Chris at all its about what I can do, taking my game to the next level. I believe if I do that and keep improving Ill be a player that is pretty valuable right now.

- A version of this story originally appeared in Oil Country Magazine
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