There was no way to know which Joffrey Lupul the Toronto Maple Leafs were getting when they acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks a year ago. After all, this was a promising talent who had missed three days shy of a year recovering from injury and was underwhelming upon his return.
They aren’t wondering any more.
"At the start of the year, if I said I was going to be up in that top (group in scoring), I probably would have not believed myself," Lupul admitted in a recent interview. "I’m not going to go looking and chasing guys like Evgeni Malkin and the Sedin brothers. I’m just going to keep playing the same way I have been, and hopefully the points keep coming."
And they have been.
Heading into last Saturday’s tilt against the Canadiens, Lupul sat fifth in NHL scoring with a career-high 58 points. That puts him on pace for 86 points, 33 more than his previous best of 53, set back in 2005-06.
But, even more impressive is the fact that he’s put up those points in 55 games – the exact number the Leafs have played this season.
"A lot of it is just being healthy," he told the Edmonton Sun. "I went a couple of years without being 100 percent healthy. To be back and to be 100 percent is a big confidence boost for me and I’m getting the opportunity to play a big role on this team."
It’s a remarkable turnaround for Lupul. He had two surgeries to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. That was followed up by an infection and six weeks of intravenous antibiotics. Everything appeared to finally be headed in the right direction as Lupul began to rehab. That is until the infection came back and Lupul was back on antibiotics for another eight weeks.
"You come in just assuming you’re going to have a really long career in the NHL and not thinking about anything ever going wrong," Lupul said to TSN.ca. "And then as your career goes and you have an off-year or you have some bad injuries or you’re traded or friends of yours are traded, all sorts of things happen.
"Those are just experiences that you pick up from day to day and year to year that make you just a better player and in the end probably a better person too just experiencing as much as possible."
Now 28, the seventh overall pick in 2002 has learned from those experiences. He understands that it takes more than just talent to be an NHL pro. A once lax off-ice work ethic is stronger than ever.
"Now I come to the rink every day – whether it’s a game or practice – with a purpose, to get better at something or stronger in the weight room or take care of my body so eight years from now hopefully I can still be playing," he said. "Back then, something like that would never even cross my mind, it was just living for that particular day and go from there."
Unlike the last time he went from Anaheim to a Canadian hockey market (Edmonton in 2006), the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., native is rejuvenated under the bright – and often scrutinizing – lights of Toronto.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
"This is the center of the hockey universe," he told the Sun. "It’s fun. It seems like every game is a big game, no matter who’s coming to town, there’s always an interesting story line or something is going on. Then when we go on the road, there are a lot of Leafs fans; it’s a fun place to play.
"Every time you come to the rink there’s something going on and you’re not going to get bored here, that’s for sure."