Even the Russians appear to have a love-hate relationship with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
(In that one sense, the move isn’t really a change of scenery for Lupul.)
The exception concerns Lupul’s status as a non-elite player in the NHL. Normally, the KHL would only allow foreign-born players who have won a major individual trophy, won a league championship or represented their country internationally within the last two years to play in the league. Another requirement involves playing a minimum of 150 games over the past three seasons.
Despite having abundant talent, a history of injuries and untimely trades have put many of these accomplishments out of Lupul’s reach. Nonetheless, he was allowed to join Yekaterinburg in recognition of his point-per-game finish and all-star status last season.
He’ll soon learn that in Russia, hockey plays you.
Lupul finished last season with 25 goals and 42 assists for a total of 67 points, easily surpassing his previous career high of 53 points (28 goals and 25 assists) set in 2005 with the Anaheim Ducks. This accomplishment was achieved despite the fact he played in only 66 games – 15 fewer games than he played in 2005.
It’s fair to say Lupul has quickly established himself as one of the Leafs’ best players and one of Leafs Nations’ favourite players as well.
He will dress as only the fourth North American-born player – and the second Canadian-born player – currently active in the KHL. The other three players are Joe Pavelski (American), Ryan McDonagh (American) and Evander Kane (Canadian).
Personally, I would rather see Lupul don a Toronto jersey, but I send my love to Russia for offering at least a glimpse of Leafs hockey this season.
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