By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 28) – He isn’t the big name fans of the Maple Leafs are salivating over in free agency, but he is big in every other way.
Veteran centre/left-winger Mike Rupp of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a player the Leafs are reportedly interested in to fill out the bottom-six grouping in general manager Brian Burke’s forward alignment. Forever on the hunt for large bodies, Burke won’t find one much bigger in the NHL than Rupp, who is a strapping 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. The 30-year-old native of Cleveland has missed only one game per season the past two years in Pittsburgh while scoring 22 goals and accumulating 244 penalty minutes.
BIG MIKE RUPP OF THE PENGUINS FENDS OFF TEEMU SELANNE OF ANAHEIM IN THIS PHOTO FROM PITTSBURGH. THE LEAFS COULD SIGN RUPP AS A FREE AGENT.
Rupp is among the few NHLers that has twice gone through the draft. A decent scorer in junior with the Onatrio Hockey League Erie Otters, he was selected ninth overall by the New York Islanders in 1998, but did not sign with the team. He was available again as a 20-year-old in 2000 and New Jersey picked him 76th overall. He helped the Devils win the 2003 Stanley Cup, scoring the final goal in a 3-0 Game 7 victory over Anaheim at Continental Airlines Arena.
After brief stops in Phoenix and Columbus, Rupp found himself back with the Devils for three seasons beginning in 2006-07. He signed as a free agent with Pittsburgh (two years, $1.65-million) on July 1, 2009.
Rupp plays with an underlying heart condition known as Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome – an arrhythmia similar in nature to that which affects Leafs’ goalie Jonas Gustavsson. The condition was diagnosed in 1998 and has been kept well under control.