December 9, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
CALGARY -- Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman says there are no long shots with this group but, of course, there are and Andrew Ladd is one of them.
The Winnipeg Jets captain and one of the NHL's most underrated players is considered by many to be a second-tier player slotted into a first-tier role on a bad team.
On the surface the premise holds water, as Ladd skates on the top line of a non-playoff team. But the premise breaks down for one reason: Ladd is not second-rate.
Maybe he doesn't have a skill that stands out, such as blinding speed or elite ice vision, but he puts all his tools together for a rare complete package.
There is no team in the NHL that wouldn't want Andrew Ladd; his versatility makes him invaluable.
"When you're building a national team there are different roles and the conversations with the coaching staff have been all about building a team," said Team Canada coaching consultant Ralph Krueger. "The 14 forwards all have to have character. Andrew might not be seen as a top six guy but Andrew understands the 200-foot game and his understanding of winning is key. Every game here is a Game 7 and when you have a player with two Stanley Cups, he understands that part of the game. Andrew is in the mix."
Ladd need only look around to realize he's not in the upper crust of this group in terms of scoring. But the quiet confidence that underpins everything Ladd has achieved as a hockey player bubbles over a bit when that fact is pushed in his direction.
"They're not looking for just goals and assists and points. That's one thing I've done pretty well in my career and that's play the right way. If the puck isn't going in that's OK. It can work the other way too. Sometimes you're not playing very well and the puck is going in, but I think I'm pretty good at knowing I have to stick to the basics," he said.
"I think I skate well enough. It hasn't been a problem for me at world championships. I've played different roles there too, from a checker to a top-six forward. I don't think I've struggled at all. I'll get there."
Krueger adds the larger ice surface used at this Olympics will provide difficulties for some players, but not Ladd.
"You have to be very good positionally and an above average skater, which Andrew is," said Krueger, who has been tasked with figuring out a way to translate the Canadian team's strengths into success on the big ice. "You have to understand the angles and he's very good at that. He's been schooled very well."
Getting off to a strong start this season is pivotal. Ladd will have to score goals to keep his name in the conversation but he can't stray from the foundation his game is built upon.
"Skating and checking for me are key. When I'm doing that I'm on the body and on the puck. If I don't do that I'm not playing my best hockey," said Ladd, who potted 18 goals last season and has 75 over the last three campaigns. "The only negative effect it can have is if you start thinking you're better than you are and you start playing the wrong way. For me, my game starts with checking and the offence comes from that. My game is skating and checking and after you get the puck you have some freedom to try and make plays."
Ladd paid close attention to the rash of contracts Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was able to complete this summer, including those of linemates Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little. The suggestion was made to him on Tuesday that Cheveldayoff had done his part and now the players must do theirs and develop into a consistent winner.
"Yep, for sure. First of all those guys deserve that. They've been a very important part of our team and if they weren't part of our team going forward there would have been some big holes to fill," said Ladd. "As a group we have to be ready to take the next step."
Ladd said he'd be leaving Calgary and making his way back to Winnipeg to begin final preparations for the regular season. Putting a winning Jets team on the ice is one goal, but making the Olympic team will also be on one of his front burners.
"I'll really only be happy if I get named to the final roster. It's nice to be here but the goal is to be in Sochi. That's the only thing that will make me happy," said Ladd.
The 27-year-old also sees some benefit to having himself and a number of teammates trying to make Olympic rosters.
"We've got a lot of guys on the U.S. side (four) that will be looking to make an impression with a good start and be in contention to make that team. If we can do it as a group and have success with our team, that's good for everyone," he said.
Good for everyone, and maybe most importantly, good for Jets fans.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2013 D1