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Canes Lock up 'Late Bloomer' Stewart

Saturday, 07.02.2011 / 3:03 PM / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky

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.





1 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
2 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
3 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
4 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
5 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
6 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
7 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
8 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79


E. Staal 79 21 40 -13 61
J. Skinner 71 33 21 -14 54
A. Sekera 74 11 33 4 44
A. Semin 65 22 20 1 42
J. Staal 82 15 25 2 40
J. Faulk 76 5 27 -9 32
N. Gerbe 81 16 15 -6 31
J. Tlusty 68 16 14 2 30
R. Nash 73 10 14 0 24
P. Dwyer 75 8 14 -2 22
A. Khudobin 19 14 1 .926 2.30
C. Ward 10 12 6 .898 3.06