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Lupul returns to top line

By Thomas J. Harrigan, Fantasy Sports Writer

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The long-awaited reunion of Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak occurred Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, and it was prosperous for all three players.

Lupul scored a pair of goals, and Kessel and Bozak had assists on both of them.

Lupul has earned his way back onto that top line with six goals on 14 shots, one assist and a plus-5 differential over his last four games.

The left winger missed nearly two months after a slap shot from teammate Dion Phaneuf fractured his arm on Jan. 23, and he had skated mainly with Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin in his first three games back. He also served a two-game suspension for an illegal check, further delaying his return to the top line.

We saw how valuable that spot could be earlier this season, when Lupul's replacement, James van Riemsdyk, had 11 goals over his first 18 games.

The JVR-Bozak-Kessel line has produced 18 even-strength goals this season, seventh in the NHL, according to leftwinglock.com.

But van Riemsdyk has slumped as of late, putting up three goals and seven points over his last 16 games and zero points over his last five.

JVR also doesn't have a single power-play assist this season, likely contributing to the dip in Kessel's power-play goals from 10 last season to three in 2012-13.

Lupul, meanwhile, had 13 power-play assists to go with eight power-play goals in 66 games last season. Putting him back on the No. 1 power-play line should help Kessel's numbers.

Bozak has never produced the numbers expected of a No. 1 center, especially considering the talent of his linemates, and his stats won't change much from the switch of JVR to Lupul. He had 0.64 ppg last season and he's slightly under that at 0.59 ppg this season.

Bozak is out there to win face-offs -- 403 face-offs won, third in the NHL -- and dole out some hits, two things that most fantasy owners cannot benefit from.

But they can benefit from Lupul's top-notch production. He has scored at a 1.01 ppg clip over 73 games the last two seasons, and those numbers have come playing primarily with Kessel and Bozak on the top 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 lines.

Lupul should be a difference maker in the final month of the season, provided he stays out of the way of those speeding slap shots.

03/27 17:04:03 ET


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