Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

At 600 games, captain Ladd a rock

Coach Maurice puts high value on his club's fearless leader

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Jets�  Andrew  Ladd and Michael Frolik celebrate Ladd�s goal against Rangers� goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the first period Friday.

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Jets� Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik celebrate Ladd�s goal against Rangers� goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the first period Friday.

Truth be told, Friday night's game at the MTS Centre between the Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers was actually Jets captain Andrew Ladd's 601st career NHL game.

But as Ladd's teammates were only too happy to remind him Friday morning at practice, there is a lone phantom game for which Ladd dressed as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes that he gets no credit for in his official NHL statistics.

"Someone told me that this morning, and they were laughing because they said it would have been 600 last game," said Ladd, who scored once in Winnipeg's 4-2 loss. "But one game in Carolina, I sat on the bench the entire game and never touched the ice.

"So you don't get a game played for that one. So I guess I will thank (former Hurricanes coach) Peter Laviolette for that one."

It's a testimony to just how far Ladd's game has come in nine NHL seasons that a player who once sat on the bench for an entire game without relief -- and was often injured early in his career even when he did play -- now logs huge minutes for the Jets and is considered one of the game's iron men for his durability.

Consider: Only one other player from Ladd's draft class of 2004 has logged more NHL games in the intervening years. Perhaps you've heard of him -- the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin.

None of this is to say Ladd is Ovechkin, but to hear Jets head coach Paul Maurice describe Ladd, you get the feeling the Jets captain is every bit as valuable to his team as Ovechkin is to the Caps. Just listen:

"There's no fear in his game," Maurice said, adding Ladd rises to just the kind of occasions the Jets currently find themselves in as they try to claw their way back into the playoff race.

"The pressure in where we're at always shifts to those guys, and playing hard is not enough in this league -- you have to compete and you have to produce. And he's a guy who's capable of leading in that manner."

Though his team was mired in a five-game winless skid heading into Friday night, Ladd had four goals in Winnipeg's last six games and his 18 goals this season had him third in goal-scoring on the club, trailing only Bryan Little (20) and Blake Wheeler (23).

Jets rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba said Ladd has been instrumental in his quick development -- and that of another Jets rookie, Mark Scheifele -- in the NHL game this season.

"Just his attitude and demeanour and the way he carries himself -- I think that's a big thing. I know he's tried to keep us a part of things -- especially early on, he helped us along. I think he's a good captain and he's taught me a lot."

Ladd said his durability -- and the way his game had to evolve to get that way -- are points of pride as he reflected Friday on 600 regular-season games.

"Especially the last three or four years, I've managed to stay healthy. And I think there's a fine line between my first couple of years, when I was running around trying to hit everything that moved and getting injured most of the time, to picking my spots a little more.

"I think, as a guy who's playing more minutes now, it's more imperative to pick your spots and save your energy."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 C5

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