When the 2010-11 season came to a close, 26-year-old Anthony Stewart thought he may have found a home in the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers. After completing his first full year in the league, the former first round pick set career highs in virtually every statistical category, tallying 14 goals and 25 assists in 80 games.
Had the Thrashers remained in Georgia, there was a strong chance he would have re-signed with the organization. However, the team’s relocation to Winnipeg led to a change in management, and the newly formed Jets decided not to tender Stewart a contract.
“I have a great relationship with [former Thrasher GM Rick Dudley] and we talked about getting a deal done in the summer,” he said. “I would have loved to stay with the team but things change and I understand how it goes sometimes.”
Soon after becoming a free agent, the Carolina Hurricanes signed Stewart (6′ 3”, 230 lbs.) to a two-year deal worth $1.8 million. When the ‘Canes lost Erik Cole to free agency, it became imperative for the team to add another forward to their roster. General manager Jim Rutherford had his eye on Stewart and was quick to sign him once he became available.
“He was on our short list of free agents,” Rutherford said. “Once Erik [Cole] made the decision to go elsewhere, we looked at him a lot closer.”
While Stewart may strike many as a secondary scoring option, the Quebec native has the potential to blossom into a top-six forward in Carolina. The ‘Canes offer Stewart a great opportunity to succeed, giving him the chance to play on a good hockey team while earning significant ice time in the process. With his best years ahead of him, Stewart sees himself fitting in nicely with the Hurricanes.
“I’ve talked to the coaches and staff and I believe that I’ll have the chance to build on what I have accomplished from last year,” he said. “The team has room for me to grow as a player. Carolina has great centers like Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter, and Tuomo Ruutu, and the potential of playing with any of them is exciting.”
After spending several years bouncing back and forth between the NHL and minor leagues, Stewart was able to play a major role with Atlanta last year and credits the Thrashers for giving him the chance to prove his worth.
“I think Atlanta gave me a great opportunity that I did not have in years before,” he said. “Ice time was hard to come by in years past and I knew that if I got a coach that allowed me to work through my mistakes and trusted in my potential, I could show everyone a better me.”
With the Thrashers in the past, Stewart looks forward to playing in Carolina and believes the ‘Canes have what it takes to develop into a playoff-worthy team.
“Carolina has always been a team that pushes hard for the playoffs and when they miss it, it’s not by much,” he said. “When I signed there I knew I needed more postseason experience and I feel that Carolina will give me that with the team we have now. Lineups are not always about big names but about chemistry, and if we can find that this year we can go far.”