Saturday morning outside of the Thrashers’ locker room at Philips Arena, I informed Anthony Stewart about the little cyber-wager we on this online forum…the one we had prior to the start of the season in which we tried to guess what Thrasher would notch the first hat trick this season. I told him that such players as Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little were the most common guesses. But oddly, no one had picked him.
Stewart raised an eyebrow, grinned and quipped jokingly, “That’s surprising. I think I had four goals in my whole career…”
Yeah…indeed. Why did we overlook Stewey?
Not too many people are overlooking him now, though as the 2003 23rd overall pick by the Florida Panthers has more than doubled his NHL career scoring totals. His third period goal Monday gave him 10 for the season and the assists 1 minute and 15 second later on Toby Enstrom’s second of the night gave him 12 assists on the year as well.
All in all, he now has 22 points and is a +3 while suiting up for all 35 games for Atlanta this season.
That’s pretty impressive for someone who so many were writing off as nothing more than a depth player…probably spending another year in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. Last year in while there, he netted 13 goals and dished out 18 helpers in 77 games and had 9 goals and 3 assists during 13 playoff games.
In the 105 total NHL games with the Panthers prior to that, Stewart had just 4 goals, 8 assists for them and was a –4.
So, where does Stewart place credit his sudden…if not surprising…success here this season? Well, just like so many others surrounding this Thrashers organization, he points to the coaching staff behind the bench…specifically, the head coach.
“Craig Ramsay”, Stewart quickly responded when I asked him who has been the biggest influence on his game of late. “I used to be a seven or eight minute player. And to be playing in the minors last year to step in and play fifteen to sixteen minutes this year just says a lot… that he believed in me. And when you have a coach that believes in you just makes you want to play a little harder to prove him right and the doubters wrong”.
“[Ramsay] has been great”, Stewart continued. But he was also quick to add, “He hasn’t been shy to put me in my place a couple of times. But he’s definitely been the best coach I’ve had”.
Stewart’s has spent his entire career battling to make himself a fixture in an NHL lineup, he said, “But now I’m getting my chance.”
Yes, he’s getting his big break…and he’s making the best of it, playing a vital role in this new-look Atlanta Thrashers team. It’s a much more balanced attack that he and his teammates bring to the ice each and every game, one that sees a new hero every other game. Last night he scored once while Toby Enstrom and Fredrik Modin each had a pair. Last weekend it was Eric Boulton with a hat trick…yeah, that still makes me dizzy just to type…on Long Island it was Johnny Oduya and Bryan Little. You get the point.
Stewart’s big game came earlier in the year, as mentioned above, when his three goals helped power Atlanta to a shootout win in Anaheim. But a nice as the individual achievement was for the LaSalle, Quebec native, he was just happy it helped net the two points for his team.
“We were down in the game and for us to [get the win] was big”, he told me looking back on it. “It was nice to be able to come back in that game and then win it in the shootout.”
But on a team such as the one we are witnessing this year, hearing a player speak of team success first over individual accomplishments isn’t really all that surprising. And that may be the only thing we’re not surprised about in regards to Anthony Stewart this year.