By Larry Wigge
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a star-studded case. You have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and you have James Neal and Kris Letang and you have Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis. Which one does not belong?
If you are playing this game on paper Dupuis, the 32-year-old (his birthday is April 7) forward from Laval, Quebec, would be the odd man out. But the game the Pittsburgh Penguins play is not on paper, it's got real live parts. Passion. Character. All the intangibles involved.
That's why the undrafted, unheralded Dupuis belongs. The practical joker. The conscience. The glue of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team certain fits in.
"Whomever they want me to play with in the lineup, I think I can adjust. It"s a matter of believing in the guy next to you, in the system and in your teammates. And this, for me, is a perfect fit," Dupuis explained. "My family fits as well. Why wouldn't I want to be here."
Dupuis has thrived in Pittsburgh since his arrival at the end of February in a trade with Marian Hossa four years ago. Hossa was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle for the Penguins when they traded Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
But Dupuis is the part the fit.
Pascal would have to take a number and sit in a long line before he's ever play on the power play in Pittsburgh. Still, he's got 22 goals -- a career high. That includes seven goals in eight games and a career-high eight-game point streak. Think about it, the Pens are 19-1-1 in games in which Dupuis scores a goal and 33-4-1 in games that he scores a point. He ranks tops among Pittsburgh's forwards in block shots with 42.
In the end, who else would fit better than Pascal Dupuis? You wouldn't want to say he was the ultimate throw-in in the trade for Hossa.
All the trades he's gone from Minnesota, to the New York Rangers to Atlanta and now with Pittsburgh since late in the 2006-07 season, even make Dupuis shake his head for a minute and then says sarcastically, "All the trades ... you're making me feel like a suitcase."
"At first I joked with reporters that I was coming along to carry Hoss' bags," said Pascal. "But I got the dream-of-a-lifetime job of playing on a line with Sid and Hoss."
Dupuis still gets his ice time as a checker on a ling with Crosby, Malkin or Staal. But he's there for consistency ... he does everything well.
GM Ray Shero wasn't about to make a trade without getting someone else in return -- that someone was Dupuis.
"Internally, we had mentioned Pascal a week before the deal was done," Shero told me. "Going into the deadline, our goal was to add character, speed and some help in penalty-killing -- and he met all three of those needs.
"When I was in Nashville (as assistant G.M.), we played Minnesota a lot and we always talked about the speed and discipline all of the role players under (Coach) Jacques Lemaire brought to the mix. In this case, we knew all about Dupuis' speed. But you never really know about how his character fits into the mix in the locker room. The answer is that character-wise he fits in perfectly."
And no one would ever question Dupuis work ethic. At the time of the trade from Atlanta Pascal's wife was pregnant.
"That's always the tough part about trades," Dupuis said. "I'm happy to be going to a team like the Penguins. I'm thrilled to be in Pittsburgh, but Carole-Lyne, my wife, is stuck in Atlanta with the kids (Maeva and Kody) and she's eight-months pregnant.
"Then, one night I get this call from her at 2 a.m. She's got her mom with here in Atlanta to help, but I don't want to miss this occasion. The Penguins were first class about letting me miss two games. They let me go immediately. I arrived at the hospital at 10:15 a.m. just after they had given her the epidural and Zoe came along at 11."
The story of this in-the-instant role-playing winger takes on many more layers, when you dig into it.
Pascal Dupuis was born into a hockey family. Dad, Claude, was a left winger for the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association. Mom, Lyse, was in sales. Pascal gladly put on his skates and went through the drill, mom driving him to the rink and dad catching a few games and providing some good advice.
"I'll never forget, he'd watch me play and always say, 'Remember, kid, it's all about the effort.' "
This quick-skating, quick-on-his-feet winger went into his draft year highly regarded while playing for Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But it ended in a disaster for the kid when he broke his leg around Christmas after just 44 games.
That, according to Dupuis, was the obstacle that he had to overcome if he wanted to pursue hockey as a career.
It turns out, Calgary Flames scout Tom Thompson admired Dupuis' competitiveness and hockey sense and got him an invitation to the Flames 1997 training camp. But ...
"I was out of shape after the injury and I was not close to being strong enough to making it to the NHL at that time," he said. "But after seeing what I was facing in terms of talent in that camp, I said to myself, 'You can do this Pascal.' I proved to myself I could do it if I was healthy."
When Thompson joined the Minnesota Wild a couple of years later, he offered Dupuis a tryout with the Wild. This time, Pascal was coming off a 50-goal, 55-assist effort in 61 games for Shawinigan and he earned himself a contract. But there was one more problem.
While spending most of the 2000-01 season with Cleveland in the American Hockey League, the biggest obstacle was that this French-Canadien knew little English.
"It was tough. But I got a lot of help from Todd McLellan (who just happens to be the head coach of the San Jose Sharks now). He was really good to me," Dupuis said. Then he added with a laugh, "The rest of the time it was 'yes,' 'no' and 'same thing.' "
"Yeah, you know we'd go out to eat and because I didn't know how to read the menu or say what I wanted to eat, I'd point to what someone else was having and say, 'Same thing.' " Dupuis deadpanned. "Well, one day we went out and the guys. I pointed and said, 'Same thing.' It turns out, the guys got together all they all ordered sushi. I ate one spoonful and that was it. All the guys just sat there laughing at what they'd done to me."
Now, it's Pascal Dupuis who keeps the room alive.
Team guy? You bet. Character player? None better. Throw-in. Not on your life.