Canes' Stewart is just a tweet away

Twitter fan can fill Cole's void

Staff writerAugust 26, 2011 

— Anthony Stewart is a newcomer to the Carolina Hurricanes but already is a team leader in one category: tweets.

The winger, who signed a free-agent contract with the Canes in July, seemingly tweets at every turn, at any hour of the day or night. Warning: Those who follow "Astew22" on Twitter may risk cell phone overloads.

Why so many tweets?

"I just had a lot of ideas running through my head this summer," Stewart said, smiling. "There was a lot of down time, not making the playoffs last year."

The Hurricanes know about down time. They've had to endure it the past two summers after failing to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Stewart was with the Atlanta Thrashers last season. After a hot start, the Thrashers faded fast.

The Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and rechristened the Jets. And Stewart, a native Canadian, was all set to make the move.

"You go out and buy a goose down coat for a thousand bucks," he said. "Then you have to return it because you're not going there."

Stewart, 26, was a restricted free agent after the season. He finished with career highs in goals (14), assists (25) and games played (80) but was not given a qualifying offer by the Jets and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The Hurricanes, having been outbid for right wing Erik Cole by the Montreal Canadiens, signed Stewart to a two-year, $1.8 million deal. Stewart again would be staying put, in the South and in the NHL's Southeast Division.

"It's all part of the business and not the first time that has happened," Stewart said of the Jets' decision not to tender an offer. "But I had the best season of my career and proved I'm an NHL player."

A first-round pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Stewart played 105 games in parts of four seasons for the Panthers. He signed as a free agent with the Thrashers in 2009, but spent the 2009-2010 season with the Chicago Wolves, then Atlanta's American Hockey League affiliate.

"He's your stereotype power forward," said Canes defenseman Bryan Allen, who played with Stewart in Florida. "He's big and strong up and down the wing, has a great shot. For a big body he's got some speed."

At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Stewart is roughly the same size as his younger brother Chris, a 28-goal scorer for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-2010 who had 28 again last year with the Avs and St. Louis Blues.

"I think you look at potential, you look at his brother, and there's no reason he can't be the same player," Allen said. "You look at where he was drafted and what he did in junior, it just takes time for different people to develop and in different stages.

"I think it was a great move by Carolina to pick him up and give him a chance. Obviously when you become a free agent like he did, he wants to prove some things to people. I think that's a good motivator."

Stewart, who has more than 11,000 followers on Twitter, came to Raleigh this week for conditioning workouts and informal skating sessions. He said he was quickly impressed with the devotion of the "Caniacs" and he has learned to be careful in discussing N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke.

"I'm a North Carolina State Tar Devil fan," he said.

There has already been talk Stewart might fit on the top line with captain Eric Staal, possibly opposite left winger Jeff Skinner. That will all be sorted out in preseason training camp and exhibitions, but the possibility has Stewart pumped.

"It would definitely be exciting, especially if you get to play with Staal, who is a point-a-game player," he said. "But whether it's him or (Brandon) Sutter or whoever, it may be you have to find your spot in the lineup and contribute as much as you can.

"I have a big, strong body and I can skate pretty well. If I can get a step on the (defense), I'm going hard to the net. I definitely want to be a big-body presence out there and hopefully use that to tap into some goals."

Having lost Cole, a 26-goal scorer last season, the Canes are counting on that.

"It's great Carolina took a chance and signed me," Stewart said. "I definitely want to show they made a good investment."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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