It’s a potentially big boost right when the Toronto Maple Leafs could use one.
Joffrey Lupul, the team’s second leading scorer last season, is ready to return to action, as he declared himself fit to play on Friday afternoon after nearly eight weeks on the sidelines with a broken arm.
It’s not 100 per cent that he’ll be in Saturday’s lineup against the Winnipeg Jets, but he has been cleared for contact and said that, if it was up to him, he’d play.
“I've been shooting and practising for probably a week now so the next test is to go out for a game,” Lupul said. “They've asked me what I felt and I said I felt confident that it's strong enough and so do they. I'm not going to think about it at all.
"There's obviously going to be a little bit of rust and things like that, but I'm definitely looking to go in and make an impact. Hopefully the feeling out period is not too long. I don't expect it to be."
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle had Lupul on a new-look line with Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin in practice, but he wasn’t keen on revealing if that’s where he’ll play Saturday.
“That’s an option,” Carlyle said. “He might go back with [Tyler] Bozak and [Phil] Kessel.”
As for expectations on Lupul after missing two months, the coach joked that they are sky high.
“Well he better score 100 goals,” Carlyle said. “That’s what he’s paid to do. He’s paid to make a contribution to the offence. We know when a player’s missed an extended period of time it’s not going to be easy to jump in and have a three goal night. Be himself. Be Joffrey Lupul, be a good teammate, work hard and play the system.”
With Toronto mired in its first real losing streak of the season (0-3-1) and needing a win to hold off the red-hot Jets, Lupul’s return may add the necessary spark.
The Leafs have only nine goals in those four losses and some players have been a little quiet.
Lupul has had to deal with injury after injury of late but still had a career year last season with 25 goals and 67 points in 66 games and his first all-star game appearance.
While it’s unlikely he’ll be at that level for at least the first week or two, he does provide another offensive option for another line, bumping a checking type like Leo Komarov onto the fourth line instead of in the top nine.
To open a roster spot for Lupul, Leafs GM Dave Nonis dealt little-used centre David Steckel to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, the second such move in recent weeks after Mike Brown was sent to Edmonton for a draft pick to open a similar hole.
“It’s great,” Clarke MacArthur said of Lupul’s return. “Leadership wise and work ethic, all those things. He’s a big piece of our team and it was a big loss when he got injured. It’s nice to have him back. It couldn’t come at a better time for us.”
“It's probably not 100 per cent," Lupul said of the arm. "It's not like it was before it was broken, but it's at a point where the doctor thinks it’s safe to play.”
This was the full lineup at practice on Friday, with who plays goal and who comes out on the fourth line the biggest question marks:
JVR – Bozak – Kessel
MacArthur – Grabovski – Frattin
Lupul – Kadri – Kulemin
McLaren/Orr – McClement – Komarov
Phaneuf – Holzer
Gunnarsson – Liles
Fraser – Franson