TORONTO – On the hard wooden bench in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ dressing room, there rests the only evidence that Joffrey Lupul ever had a back problem. It comes in the form of a foam pad, light blue, a couple of inches thick, designed to keep his spine aligned. He said he uses it now because it’s “just more comfortable,” and his teammates tease him, calling it the La-Z-Boy.

But there is nothing lazy about Lupul, and that’s why you would never know about the surgeries, the mysterious infection, the IV antibiotics, all the doctors and specialists and physical therapists, the year out of hockey. Lupul is playing a power game on the left wing, and he is producing like he never has before. He has not only made a comeback. He has gotten better.

Look at the NHL scoring leaders: No. 1 is the Pittsburgh Penguins’Evgeni Malkin, a former scoring champion, with 54 points. Next is the Vancouver Canucks’Henrik Sedin, a former scoring champion, with 52 points. Then there is Lupul with 51 points, tied for third with two of the most dynamic players in the game – the Tampa Bay Lightning’sSteven Stamkos and the Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk.

Lupul has clicked with teammatePhil Kessel, who is only one point behind, and he is on pace for 35 goals and 90 points, which would shatter his personal bests. He needs only two points to tie his career high. No wonder he has been mentioned for the Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.

“People take credit for players’ success a lot in our game,” said Dave Nonis, the Leafs’ senior vice-president of hockey operations. ” ‘It was the coach.’ ‘It was this.’ ‘It was his linemates.’ I think Joffrey deserves the credit for his success. Yes, he’s got players who have played well with him. But he put the time in and the work in, and he prepared for the season as hard as any player we have on our team.”

You don’t take the game for granted when it was almost taken from you.

Lupul was playing for the Anaheim Ducks in 2009-10 when he had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. It was supposed to be routine. His recovery was supposed to take weeks, not months, not a year. Lupul – the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft, already a six-year NHL veteran at age 26 – was supposed to have a bright future in front of him.

But then he needed a second surgery. And then he developed an infection. And then he spent six weeks taking intravenous antibiotics three hours a day. And then – just when he thought everything was fine, just when he started to rehab – he didn’t come back. The infection did. Eight more weeks of IV antibiotics three hours a day.

Read full article: Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul: A lot more than a comeback