Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is this the face of an Olympian?

Ladd hopes Team Canada likes the rugged look

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When he gets around to formulating an Olympic roster, Steve Yzerman will be looking for the best hockey players Canada has to offer -- but it won't be all about flash and dash.

Yzerman is going to want some black-eyed and busted-nose types to go along with the Sidney Crosbys. He's going to want some fox-hole guys. He's going to want a few players that look a lot like Andrew Ladd.

Ladd, among the most underrated players in the NHL today, is making a push to be part of Yzerman's final Olympic picture. How Ladd fares at the IIHF world championship next month will go a long way to either further or damage his case.

Ladd is a long shot to crack the Olympic roster and if he wants to convince Team Canada GM Yzerman he's worth bringing to Russia next winter, he'll have to do more than just fill a sweater at the worlds. He must prove he's more than just a guy putting up numbers on a bad team in Winnipeg. He must show he can contribute on a roster of the best players in the world.

Yzerman and his management group including Kevin Lowe, Ken Holland and Doug Armstrong, have identified Ladd as an Olympic candidate.

"Andrew Ladd is definitely a player we've talked about and continue to talk about," said Brad Pascall, vice president, hockey operations for Hockey Canada. "He's one of the players we're evaluating for 2014. He's on our long list. It's a workable list, well under 100 players."

Should the NHL and NHLPA work out an agreement to bring their players to the Sochi Games, Team Canada will likely hold an orientation camp in Calgary in late August.

The next step in the Olympics process for Ladd, who has one goal and four assists in 15 senior men's world championship games, is to make sure he's at that camp. But if he can't shine at the worlds, Yzerman will be comfortable stroking him off his list.

Ladd needs to make the decision difficult for Yzerman and he's set up to succeed at this tournament like he never has before.

This will be the third straight world championship Ladd has skated in for Canada, but he's likely to have a far different role than in his previous trips overseas. Expect Ladd to be a member of the top-six forward group, skating on a line with either Eric Staal or Steven Stamkos at centre.

Ladd will have a chance to score and be on the ice for important moments. Win a battle along the wall in the third period and it will be noticed. Turn the puck over and Yzerman will be there to put it in his notebook.

The one question, fairly or unfairly, that often comes up when Ladd's name is mentioned, is his ability to skate on the big ice.

"The international ice surface is something our management group looks at and evaluates," said Pascall. "It isn't the be-all, end-all in terms of the final evaluation, but leading into Sochi in 2014 where the games will be played on an Olympic-sized ice, the world championship will act as a strong indicator in terms of how players play on international ice."

The Winnipeg Jets captain broke through as a front-line winger this season, finishing 19th in league scoring with 18 goals and 46 points in 48 games. Ladd ranked fifth in scoring among all left wingers and was third among Canadian-born skaters on that side of the ice.

The image of Ladd as a third-line grinder with a Stanley Cup beard from his days in both Chicago and Carolina still sticks in the minds of many. But Ladd is a far less grimy player these days. He may still score from the tough areas, but the last three seasons have seen Ladd progress into a legitimate top liner.

A 29-goal season during the Thrashers' last season in Atlanta was followed by 28 in the Jets first campaign back in Winnipeg. This year, Ladd's upswing continued and he confirmed what a lot of people had begun to wonder. He's a consistent offensive threat and one of the better two-way players in the NHL.

"Andrew has won two Stanley Cups and been a player for us at the world juniors and senior men's. He won a gold at the juniors. We're well aware of what he's done. He's had a tremendous season and he's someone we were really hopeful about adding to our worlds roster," said Pascall, who along with Hockey Canada CEO Bob Nicholson, Lowe, Holland and Armstrong sits on Yzerman's selection committee. "We know how much he can do to help our group perform. There's no question our management group is excited to once again evaluate Andrew and how he plays on the international stage."

Ladd is a versatile player and he's proven he has one element Yzerman considers crucial.

"We want winners. Every game at the Olympics has that seventh game of a Stanley Cup feel to it," said Pascall. "We want players that can perform under that pressure and Andrew has shown he can do that."

The secret is out in Winnipeg. Andrew Ladd is the Jets' best player. Now all he needs to do is convince Yzerman he's one of Canada's.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2013 D2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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