OTTAWA – For a moment on Friday afternoon, a wave of disbelief shook Joffrey Lupul
An alternate captain in the 2012 NHL All-Star game from the nation's capital, Lupul was sharing the load of leadership responsibilities with team captain Zdeno Chara
"Z and I were going through all the names and putting them in the skills competition," Lupul explained, "and I was putting Datsyuk in these different things and I'm like 'What am I doing here?' I'm deciding where Datsyuk's going to shoot. That was kind of the moment when I was like 'What am I doing here?'
It's been that kind of year for the 28-year-old.
Forty-nine games into his first full season with the Leafs and Lupul sits in a rather unlikely spot, tied for fifth in league scoring with 52 points – just a point shy of his career-high – and an NHL All-Star for the very first time.
The unexpected has evolved into reality.
"I didn't come into this season thinking I'm going to be an All-Star," Lupul said, "because I've never been an All-Star before. But I did put in a lot of work and again not with the goal of being an All-Star but just with the goal of getting back and playing and having fun again. To be named to this was an honour, but not something that was a goal or anything."
Front and centre with Chara at the Fantasy All-Star Draft on Thursday evening, Lupul was at ease in the spotlight, absorbing a slew of barbs from local Senators fans while coolly selecting talent for the weekend's proceedings, beginning with the aforementioned Red Wing star Pavel Datsyuk
"If I'm getting cheered in Ottawa it probably means I'm not doing my job too well," he chuckled afterward. "It was nice to hear."
Over a year removed from his return to the NHL after an 80-game absence – due to back problems and complications from surgery – Lupul is standing in a place he never would've expected, a comfortable member of the NHL's elite. The Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta native has posted at least a point in 36 games this season, tied with linemate Phil Kessel
for the NHL lead.
"Loops is a great hockey player," Kessel said, "and people are starting to really notice it."
Lupul has already hit the 20-goal mark – the fourth time in his career – also smashing a career-high with 32 assists, the rewards of unmistakable chemistry with Kessel.
Confident, healthy and motivated, Lupul is thriving in Toronto.
"He's taken his game to a different level," Dion Phaneuf
concluded of his fellow All-Star. "He's been a huge part of why we've won hockey games. He's been so consistent putting up numbers.
"The thing with Loops is he competes. He plays the game real hard and he's emerging into one of the top power forwards in the league and I think you can see that."