Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ladd likes possibilities on offence with two large additions

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IT is the kind of ringing endorsement that is expected, not an eyebrow-raising statement that will shake up the NHL neighbourhood.

And so when Winnipeg Jet captain Andrew Ladd offers his two thumbs up to the additions of free agents Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky, the cynics out there will insist it's the case of a man simply paying lip service to the moves made by the guys who sign his cheques.

But then there's this: Ladd, who played left wing on the club's top line with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, will readily admit there were long stretches last year when night after night his trio faced one checking line after another. And with the goals occasionally scarce, the Jets were essentially a one-line squad that was oh so easy to defend.

While the arrival of Jokinen and Ponikarovsky will hardly be compared to Hull and Hedberg, they do make the Jets deeper and bigger up front.

"We filled a big need for a centre that can help us out up front and provides a little more depth," said Ladd in a phone chat from his off-season pad in B.C. "We got a lot bigger. That's what we were thinking going into the off-season: we wanted to add some size and depth up front. It's so key to be able to roll four lines.

"You watch Jersey and L.A. in the Stanley Cup finals and they consistently rolled four lines with energy. It's been that way for a long time now with the teams that have won championships: they have three scoring lines. You need that depth to compete against the top teams. Hopefully that fits into the way we play this year."

The debate about line combinations is months away, but the arrival of Jokinen and Ponikarovsky -- who had 23 and 14 goals, respectively, last season -- does offer some intriguing options. It's been suggested Evander Kane, the team's leading goal man with 30, might not be a good fit with Jokinen, who is more of a shooter than passer down the middle. But a go-to-the net left-winger like Ladd might work with the team's newest centre.

In any case, the cupboard now seems considerably less bare when discussing offensive options. And while Jokinen and Ponikarovsky don't play a power-forward type game like Milan Lucic of Boston, at 6-3 and 6-4, respectively, they will be tough to move off the puck.

"Those guys will help a lot," said Ladd. "I mean, if your top line is playing against a checking line and that checking line is doing a good job, it's up to the other two lines to be able to score. You need skill throughout the lineup. This will help us play with four lines. A lot of times last year we were playing with three lines and it's tough to keep that energy up when you're going every third shift, not every fourth.

"This will help (head coach) Claude (Noel) if he needs to shuffle lines and get certain guys away from other lines or if he's trying to get chemistry with different guys. We have more options now.

"I've played a lot against Jokinen because when I first came into the league he was in Florida and was one of the top players in the league at that time," added Ladd. "He's scored over 30 goals a few times. And Ponikarovsky is just a heavy, heavy man. He's just a tough guy to play against. Both are big bodies that battle hard, especially down low in the opponent's end.

"Our forward group has gotten a lot bigger and lot tougher to play against. And that's key."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2012 D1

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