|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2012||[Print without images]|
PITTSBURGH -- Sometimes a player's unexpected rise to prominence is so incongruous it stops you in your tracks.
Really? He's that good? Really?
Sometimes, though, such a transformation is downright inspiring.
Pittsburgh Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis is a kind of Everyman. Discarded by a number of teams, a throw-in on the Marian Hossa trade, Dupuis has redefined himself as a player and a leader on a team that, in spite of losing the first game of the playoffs Wednesday night, remains a Stanley Cup favorite.
Even in the Penguins' disappointing loss, Dupuis continues to be one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL. He set up the first goal of the game by captain Sidney Crosby, then scored with 36.9 seconds left in the first period. That makes 18 straight games in which Dupuis has registered a point.
His point streak, seemingly coming out of nowhere, was the longest in the NHL during the regular season and he has 11 goals and 13 assists over those 18 games.
"For me it wasn't quiet," Dupuis noted. "Maybe around the league it was."
The streak is the fifth longest in franchise history and only two players -- Mario Lemieux and Crosby -- have streaks that surpass Dupuis' effort.
Crosby. Lemieux. Dupuis. "Those names just kind of roll off your tongue, don't they?" quipped Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero.
"It's pretty impressive."
This season has marked a high-water mark for the 33-year-old native of Laval, Quebec. He scored 25 times, had 59 points and delivered eight game-winning goals.
More remarkable is that Dupuis didn't pad his stats with power-play points. None of his points during the streak were recorded with the man advantage and, apart from a power play assist collected in the team's first regular-season game, he has no power-play points at all. In fact, he has not scored a power-play goal since the 2006-07 season.
|Pascal Dupuis' 18-game point streak is the fifth longest in franchise history. Only Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux have longer streaks for the Penguins.|
But his 55 even-strength points were good for 11th in the NHL; more than guys like his old pal Hossa, Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg. Also, his seven shorthanded goals over the past two regular seasons are tied for the most in the NHL.
"He can apparently do everything but score on the power play," Shero noted.
Over the past two seasons, the Penguins are 33-4-1 when Dupuis scores a goal.
In tabbing the Penguins as capable of having another long playoff run this spring, a number of scouts and executives contacted by ESPN.com noted Dupuis' performance as an illustration of the kind of offensive depth that is difficult to stop.
For Shero, though, the importance of the happy-go-lucky winger isn't always about what appears on the score sheet but the way he plays the game and his role within the dressing room. With the departure over the past couple of years of veterans like Sergei Gonchar and Bill Guerin, "he's stepped into that kind of role in the locker room," Shero said.
Earlier this season when there were rumors that the team wanted to appoint another player captain while Crosby was rehabbing from concussion issues, it was Dupuis who suggested the players all wear C's on their jerseys at practice as a sign of solidarity for Crosby.
Dupuis was in his hotel room in Montreal on trade deadline day in 2008 when he turned on the television and saw that his Atlanta Thrashers teammate Hossa had been traded to Pittsburgh. A few seconds later he learned from that same television screen that he would be joining him.
"I was like, oh no, not again," Dupuis told ESPN.com Thursday.
Exactly a year earlier, he'd been in Montreal as a member of the Minnesota Wild when he learned that he'd been traded to the New York Rangers. The Thrashers had been interested in Dupuis at that point and in fact thought they had a deal with the Wild to acquire him. Instead, Dupuis played six games for the Rangers before the Thrashers acquired him.
When the trade to Pittsburgh took place, Dupuis wondered if he was destined to be one of hockey's lost souls. Good enough to be coveted by someone else but never good enough to fit into a team's plans for more than a short period of time.
"You say to yourself, geez, am I one of those guys that's going to be going around the league never settling into one place," Dupuis said.
Even when he arrived in Pittsburgh his future did not immediately reveal itself.
He played with Sidney Crosby and Hossa for much of the 2008 run to the Stanley Cup finals but found himself moving down the depth chart and at times right out of the lineup when coach Michel Therrien was replaced by Dan Bylsma in February 2009.
Bylsma admitted that when he took over the team it took some time for the two to come to an understanding about just what Dupuis meant to the team.
"We've had an interesting history together. When I came here it maybe wasn't the best time for Pascal," Bylsma said Thursday. "There were some things that maybe didn't endear me to Pascal."
The winger was even a healthy scratch at times during the Pens' run to the Cup.
"I didn't score a single point in the playoffs," Dupuis said.
Dupuis cherished his day with the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2009, but he promised himself that if he ever got another chance, he would play a bigger role in that event.
"At the same time you want to be part of the equation. You want to be part of the solution, to help your team win," Dupuis said.
So far, the father of four children ranging in age from 18 months to eight years old has more than met those goals.
"I'm not surprised," Waddell, who is now doing some scouting for the Penguins, told ESPN.com on Thursday. "He's still one of the best skaters in the league and I think he's gotten smarter with his speed as he's gotten more mature as a player."
There was a time when Dupuis would use his speed to the outside and unleash a shot and, while it was occasionally effective, it was something "that I think everybody in the league knew he was going to use," Bylsma said.
But Dupuis worked on becoming more than that. He tracks down pucks in the corner now, he blocks shots and works diligently on the penalty kill. He goes to the front of the net, as was evidenced in the two goals in which he had a hand in Game 1, both of which were scored in tight.
"It's worked out for both of us," Shero said. "He does a lot of the right things. He's gotten better for us."
Perhaps in the end what makes this a compelling story is that Dupuis represents something that players everywhere can aspire to be like. Undrafted, at times unwanted, Dupuis turned the disappointments early in his career into something that every player cherishes -- a home, a place to be needed and wanted.
"It's a great feeling, especially with the guys in that locker room," he said. "I wouldn't have done what I'm doing this year on any other team. Never."