TORONTO- Phil Dupuis may not have worked out for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the NHL level but he’s become an important part of their AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies as they inch towards the 2012 playoffs.
The Laval, Quebec native has four goals in his last four games, including back-to-back winners against the Grand Rapids Griffins to help extend the Marlies’ winning streak to six games. He now has five game-winning goals, which is second on the team despite starting the season with the Leafs.
“He’s been great,” said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. “He’s been a good leader for us ever since he was sent down. I think it took him a while to get up fitness wise because he hadn’t played up with the Leafs but he’s bought in.”
Dupuis played 30 games with the Leafs, before getting demoted in early January, and he failed to record a single point. With the Marlies he now has 14 goals and 30 points in 40 games, which puts him on pace to be the team’s goal leader if he played the full AHL season.
While the skill level is easy to point out as a reason as to why Dupuis finally found his scoring, much of it has to do with the difference in the role he’s played with the two clubs.
“It’s totally different than when I was with the Leafs,” Dupuis said about his role with the Marlies. ”I was a shut-down, strictly defensive (player), which was totally okay. Unfortunately I didn’t get any goals or assists.”
“When I came down here, Dallas told me right away ‘I want you to be one of my top-five players. I’ll give you power-play time and you still have to be good on the penalty kill’. I’m doing a little bit of everything and I can’t complain.”
When Dupuis was re-assigned to the Marlies, it wasn’t a pleasing moment for the 26-year old who signed with the Leafs in the summer after playing last season for the Colorado Avalanche.
The 26-year-old still had to take a pay cut and face the fact he was back in the AHL for the first time in two seasons.
“It was hard, I’m not gonna lie. It’s not something you want to hear,” said Dupuis about being told he would have to clear waivers and join Toronto’s AHL affiliate.
At the time, however, Dupuis didn’t realize that being a member of the Marlies would actually make him happier than playing for a Leafs’ club that fell off the tracks a month after he was sent down.
“I wanted to be happy and I wanted to play hockey,” he said. ”Up there (with the Leafs) I wasn’t really happy going to practice every morning but since I’ve been here it’s been a blast. The team we have is so much fun, I have a smile on my face every morning, I’m enjoying life and it’s pretty cool.”
When the Marlies start post-season play in two weeks it will be the first time Dupuis participates in playoff hockey since 2007 when he played in the ECHL for the Dayton Bombers.
He never scored timely goals for the Leafs, like he has for the Marlies, but he still has a chance to show value to the organization before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the Summer if he can help lead the Marlies to the Calder Cup.
“My consistency has been good and that’s what I want to bring every night to this team. I think we have the guys to win it so we’ll see how it goes.”