Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Every game, a very good Ladd shows why he's the captain

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Ask for a list of top left-wingers in the game and most hockey folks will go on for awhile before getting to Andrew Ladd. Maybe they should rethink their list.

With nine goals through 16 games, Ladd is only three back of league leader Thomas Vanek and if there was an all-star game this season, your Jets captain would be in it.

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On Thursday night, with one of his teammates lying in a hospital bed, there was never a more important night for Ladd to lead his team.

The captain did just that with a goal and two assists as the Jets won their second in a row, taking a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Ladd is an underrated goal-scorer still pigeonholed in many minds as a young, bearded fourth-line grinder who got his first taste from the Stanley Cup back in 2005-06 with the Carolina Hurricanes.

But his game and resumé have grown substantially since then as he's added a second Cup and a captain's C along the way. He has arguably been the best player on his team on a night-in, night-out basis since they arrived from Atlanta.

Ladd is the captain, and as such is a lightning rod for fans and media, but one can best measure his worth to the Jets by the amount of trust placed in him by coach Claude Noel.

Not once has Noel's appreciation of Ladd wavered as he's thrown him over the boards again and again and again.

Ladd, who was playing in his 500th NHL game Thursday, has been his club's offensive leader this season, with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points.

In fact, since the Jets relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta, it has been Ladd who has been his club's most consistent and prolific scorer, with 37 goals in 97 games.

He has systematically silenced his critics in Winnipeg with steady offensive play, and for the most part, a responsible brand of hockey.

During his two Stanley Cup runs, first with Carolina and later in Chicago, he played a different role, used mostly as a member of a third or fourth line.

But his goal-scoring ability can no longer be ignored or considered an anomaly. With a 29-goal season in 2010-11, followed by last year's 28 and already nine this season, Ladd has grown into his offensive game. He's a threat every night and scores from the difficult areas of the ice.

This past summer, there was lots of talk about the Jets needing a legitimate No. 1 line, and with the arrival of freeagent centre Olli Jokinen, it appeared a new order was upon the Jets.

But the combination of Jokinen, Evander Kane and whoever Noel tried with them only sputtered, and so too did the Jets.

Slowly, the trio of centre Brian Little with Ladd and Blake Wheeler on the wings ascended back to its top-line status and the Jets became tougher to play against.

On Thursday night, the line combined for six points, including Wheeler's goal to open the scoring and the winner late in the third period.

Noel will think long and hard before separating the trio again, as they've easily been the best line he's formed under Winnipeg colours.

And Ladd is the heart of that line. Just like that of his team.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2013 C4

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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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