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Canes Lock up 'Late Bloomer' Stewart

Saturday, 07.2.2011 / 3:03 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky
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Canes Lock up \'Late Bloomer\' Stewart

The Hurricanes added another top-nine forward to their lineup with the signing of right wing Anthony Stewart on Saturday.

Paul Branecky
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Stewart, an unrestricted free agent most recently with the Atlanta Thrashers, is coming off a personal breakout year that saw him score 39 points (14g, 25a) last season – a 32-point improvement over his previous best. A first-round pick (25th overall) of the Florida Panthers in 2003, Stewart may just now be reaching his potential after a slow start.

“He’s a late bloomer, no question,” said Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford. “What we like about Anthony is that last year was his first big step forward to be an NHL player. He is big, can skate and we feel there’s some upside there. We feel he’s a guy that can take another big step with us.”

Should the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Stewart be able to do so, Rutherford feels he’s added a 20-goal scorer to his lineup for the second consecutive day, having signed Alexei Ponikarovsky one day earlier. Those signings, which will cost the team a combined $2.3 million next season, should help offset the loss of Erik Cole to Montreal.

“When you put these to guys together, those are goals and minutes that we’re looking for to replace Erik,” said Rutherford, who added that he stepped up his pursuit of Stewart once he realized he would not be able to re-sign Cole.

Stewart’s signing, while at a relatively inexpensive $1.8 million over the next two seasons, does cut into the budget Rutherford had set aside to possibly acquire a proven top-six forward via trade as a direct replacement for Cole. While Stewart’s signing removes some of the team’s urgency to do so, the Canes’ general manager still did not rule out that possibility.

“We’re always looking to make our team better,” he said. “If the right player comes along, we’ve got the assets and the flexibility to make that trade.”

As for additional free agent signings, Rutherford suggested that the Hurricanes’ external shopping list may be complete for the time being, as the team turns its focus to re-signing some of its own players, both unrestricted and restricted.

“We’ll listen when people come to us, but we’re not searching as hard as we have been in the last couple of days,” said Rutherford. “There’s no urgency now.”

The signings of Stewart and Ponikarovsky would seem to limit the number of guaranteed starting spots for young players along the lines of Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe, but Rutherford said that the extra room in the budget will allow the team to carry extra players on its roster – something it’s been hesitant to do in recent seasons for financial reasons.

“If we have extra players on our roster, guys can play on merit,” said Rutherford. “We have the flexibility to allow more players to make our team.”

Stewart was Rutherford’s second signing of the day on Saturday, having also locked up forward Justin Soryal to a two-way contract. Soryal, who racked up 220 penalty minutes in the American Hockey League last season, will provide toughness for the Charlotte Checkers next season.

”This was a guy Jeff Daniels had at the top of his list,” said Rutherford. “At our end-of-year meetings, he was really pushing for him as a guy who could help his team.”

Rutherford said that, although the two players fill similar roles, Soryal’s signing did not rule out the possibility of a return for unrestricted free agent Troy Bodie.


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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 51 38 9 4 166 114 80
2 FLA 52 31 15 6 143 115 68
3 NYR 52 29 18 5 148 134 63
4 TBL 51 29 18 4 137 118 62
5 BOS 52 28 18 6 151 137 62
6 NYI 51 27 18 6 143 127 60
7 DET 52 26 18 8 130 131 60
8 PIT 51 26 18 7 132 130 59
9 NJD 53 26 20 7 119 120 59
10 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
11 MTL 54 26 24 4 143 143 56
12 PHI 51 23 19 9 121 133 55
13 OTT 53 24 23 6 148 165 54
14 BUF 53 21 26 6 120 139 48
15 TOR 51 19 23 9 117 140 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 54 15 19 -13 34
J. Skinner 54 19 12 -3 31
V. Rask 52 12 19 0 31
J. Staal 54 12 19 8 31
K. Versteeg 53 10 21 1 31
E. Staal 54 9 21 0 30
E. Lindholm 54 8 16 -9 24
A. Nestrasil 47 7 12 0 19
J. Nordstrom 43 5 9 2 14
R. Hainsey 54 3 11 -11 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 15 11 6 .908 2.38
E. Lack 9 10 3 .901 2.74
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