Steven Stamkos remained the No. 1 topic of conversation in NHL dressing rooms Tuesday, a day after his season likely ended because of a broken right tibia suffered after he crashed into a goalpost.
First, his fellow players expressed hope the Tampa Bay Lightning star will make a full recovery following surgery to repair the break that will require a minimum of three months to heal (and could take as long as nine months). Second, since Stamkos is unlikely to be able to play for Canada at the Olympics in February, the talk quickly turns to which forwards can expect to move up on the national team’s depth chart or push their way into the picture.
One of those players is Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul, who admits he probably wasn’t on the radar of Steve Yzerman, who doubles as the Lightning general manager and the executive director of the Canadian team.
Lupul was not invited to the Canadian team’s orientation camp in the summer, but he and others who did not get an invite, such as Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks may get a look.
“As a player, I just hope he makes a full recovery,” Lupul said of Stamkos Tuesday, after the Leafs finished practice and prepared to leave for a two-game road trip against the Minnesota Wild (Wednesday) and Buffalo Sabres (Friday). “He’s an important part of the league. People go to watch him, not just in Tampa but in other stadiums, so I just hope he comes back 100 per cent.”
Stamkos was tied with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most points in the NHL (23) when he was injured. While he is a natural centre, Canada’s large pool of players to draw from at that position had Stamkos projected to be Crosby’s right winger on the top line. His absence doesn’t mean Lupul, who can play both wings and has 12 points in 15 games, would be considered for the No. 1 line but he could move into contention for a spot farther down the roster.
“I’m probably a guy who wasn’t on the list a while ago,” Lupul said. “Hopefully, I’ve elevated my game to the point where I’m at least in the conversation.
“Again, it’s Team Canada and there are no bad choices. Everyone is going to analyze the team and at the end of the day everyone who’s there will be a capable player and be able to help their country.”
On Tuesday, Hockey Canada president and chief executive officer Bob Nicholson said it’s too early to consider the use of an injury clause on Stamkos for the 2014 Olympics.
“You’re never replacing Steve Stamkos,” Nicholson told The Canadian Press. “We have a lot of great players. Steve Yzerman has a very difficult job putting this team together, but you don’t replace Steve Stamkos and we’ll just have to find another way to make sure the lineup’s strong.”
The Leafs received a little good news on their own injury front.
Centre Tyler Bozak, who is on the long-term injured reserve list with a hamstring injury, skated for the first time since he was hurt Oct. 25. Bozak skated by himself for about 25 minutes before practice.
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said he hopes Bozak will progress well enough to be able to practise with the team next week. “And then, it will be up to him from that point, if he feels he has his legs underneath him, whether he can play or not,” Carlyle said.
Bozak is not eligible to come off the injured list until Nov. 21.
With a file from The Canadian Press
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