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Lightning vs. Hurricanes
Tracking the Storm

Canes Lock up 'Late Bloomer' Stewart

Saturday, 07.02.2011 / 3:03 PM / 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 TBL 48 30 14 4 156 127 64
2 NYI 46 31 14 1 151 129 63
3 DET 47 27 11 9 139 119 63
4 MTL 45 29 13 3 123 106 61
5 PIT 46 26 12 8 138 117 60
6 NYR 44 27 13 4 134 106 58
7 WSH 46 24 13 9 137 120 57
8 BOS 48 25 16 7 126 121 57
9 FLA 44 20 14 10 107 122 50
10 OTT 46 19 18 9 126 128 47
11 TOR 48 22 23 3 142 150 47
12 PHI 48 19 22 7 130 146 45
13 CBJ 45 20 22 3 113 142 43
14 NJD 47 17 22 8 107 134 42
15 CAR 46 16 25 5 98 120 37
16 BUF 47 14 30 3 89 167 31

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 41 15 13 -8 28
J. Faulk 46 8 18 -14 26
J. Skinner 41 10 9 -7 19
E. Lindholm 46 9 10 -10 19
R. Nash 46 7 12 -4 19
J. Tlusty 39 11 7 -12 18
N. Gerbe 42 4 13 -2 17
V. Rask 46 6 9 -9 15
A. Sekera 44 1 14 -8 15
C. Terry 33 6 3 -3 9
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Khudobin 5 8 2 .916 2.32
C. Ward 11 17 3 .911 2.45