The Thrashers have a captain.
Andrew Ladd was named to the position Thursday. The move comes nine months – and a new season – after the team’s last captain Ilya Kovalchuk was traded.
“It’s a huge honor for the coaching staff to have the confidence in me to lead this team,” Ladd said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do that.”
Ladd, 24, joins a growing group of young captains in the NHL. Among them Chicago’s Jonathan Toews is 22, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby is 23 and Carolina’s Eric Staal is 26.
Ladd has served as one of three alternate captains for the Thrashers this season. Also named to new positions Thursday were Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, who will serve as alternate captains.
“Andrew Ladd will be that guy,” Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said when asked about the team’s leadership. “It’s an enormous responsibility but he’s well respected. He has stepped up his commitment to himself to make sure he’s ready to play every night and his commitment to the team has been so evident. He’s earned that. I didn’t know who to pick at the start of the season and he’s earned that opportunity.”
Ladd becomes the eighth and youngest captain in franchise history. He currently leads the Thrashers with 18 points. He is tied for first in goals (7) and tied for second in assists (11). He leads the team’s forwards with an average ice time of 18:50.
Ramsay said the decision wasn’t based on Ladd being the team’s best player, although he has been just that in several games.
“I just think he’s the right guy,” Ramsay said. “I’ve seen lots of captains in my day but he’s a well-respected person, which to me is absolutely vital in that role. I think it’s a flaw if you just make your best player the captain. In this case, we picked the player that’s played great. He’s been our best player on many nights. He’s been as committed a player as I’ve seen in a long time.”
Not bad for a player the Thrashers acquired in an off-season deal with Chicago for defenseman prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second-round draft pick.
Ladd already owns two Stanley Cup championships, one with Carolina in 2006 and one last season with Chicago.
“I don’t know if it was a goal to be captain, but it was definitely a goal to be a leader on this team,” Ladd said. “We have a lot of great older guys that have been around that I’m going to be able to lean on throughout the year.”
Nik Antropov and Johnny Oduya were alternate captains since the start of the season. Ramsay had initially said he intended to rotate the positions throughout the roster. That was until Ladd took over.
“We were hoping from the start of the year that somebody would step up and say ‘Hey, I’m the guy. I want to be that guy.’” Ramsay said. “When you go out on a 2-on-1 are you the shooter or always the passer? You want to be that guy that makes the big play. He wants to be that guy and he’s shown it with his play. We’ve talked about it and this is a good time to reward him for what he’s done and his commitment. The time just seemed right.”
Ladd said he will lean on the experience of playing under such captains as Rod Brind’Amour in Carolina. He will also take something from being around Toews last season, to see how the young player handled the position.
Ladd said he expects an easy working relationship with Byfuglien and Enstrom, the defensive pair who are the team’s only players on the 2011 NHL All-Star fan ballot.
“They are easy guys to talk to,” Ladd said. “The passion that both those guys have for the game and, obviously, what they’ve brought to the table early on has been exceptional. Buff I’ve know for a long time. He’s definitely come a long way in his approach to the game. He’s a guy that’s been consistent for us on a nightly basis. So has Toby. He’s been here a long time and he’s excited about the changes going on here and to be part of leading the way.”