Stint on waiver wire wakes up Canes' Stewart

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2012 

— Being placed on waivers is never easy for any NHL player, and it wasn't for Anthony Stewart of the Carolina Hurricanes.

For a player, it's a jolt to the system. There's often denial, some shock and anger, followed by acceptance.

So it was for Stewart when the Hurricanes put him on waivers Feb. 6. For 24 hours, he was made available to any NHL team.

"It's a bit of a blow to your ego, obviously," Stewart said. "It's a part of the business but you don't want to be put on waivers. Sometimes, it's a business move and not personal.

"I'm pretty even keel and see things as a glass-half-full type of guy. I don't have that big an ego. It was more about having to move family if that was the case. That was my main concern."

No team claimed Stewart, who had signed a two-year free-agent contract with the Canes in July. In turn, he has responded with some of his strongest hockey of the year.

After spending a chunk of the season on the fourth line, Stewart was on Eric Staal's line Thursday opposite winger Jiri Tlusty against the New York Rangers.

'Big' game

With forwards Tuomo Ruutu, Chad LaRose and Patrick Dwyer injured, Canes coach Kirk Muller has juggled the lines. Against the Rangers, who don't lack for size, he decided to use the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Stewart on the top line in hopes of creating open ice for Staal and Tlusty to make plays.

Stewart had 14 minutes and 34 seconds of ice time in the 3-2 loss, a season high, and had three shots on goal.

"I thought he was skating well," Muller said. "Against a team that doesn't give up much I thought he opened it up a few times. He was direct, he got some shots on net. I thought he had a good game."

Muller wasn't sure Friday if LaRose would stay on Staal's line tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. LaRose might be able to return after missing seven games with an upper-body injury, and that could lead to more line changes.

"Whether it's a game or 10 games, I'll be going all out and try and make a difference," Stewart said.

Stewart, 27, has seven goals and 10 assists in 60 games this season and a plus-3 rating. A year ago, he had career highs of 14 goals and 25 assists for Atlanta, albeit with a strong start and slow finish to the season that mirrored the team's.

The Thrashers then relocated to Winnipeg to become the Jets and Stewart, a restricted free agent, was not given a qualifying offer. Free to sign with any team, he headed to Carolina and quickly became something of a personality in the locker room with his booming voice, sense of humor and quick Twitter trigger fingers.

Answering the call

Stewart's ice time fluctuated under former coach Paul Maurice. In late November, Maurice was fired and Muller hired, and the pace of practices and games was elevated, forcing everyone to adjust.

Then, Stewart went on waivers. And stayed.

"He's done a good job responding," Muller said. "His words were, 'It's a wakeup call for me.'

"I think he has to understand what's going to keep him in the NHL. He has the big body. He showed he can score in Atlanta. But if you don't work, if you don't skate, for anybody it's too tough in the league right now. He's moving more now. He's more involved."

Stewart, a former first-round draft pick by the Florida Panthers, plans to stay involved. He has points in three of his past five games for the Canes, who end a six-game homestand tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I still have faith in my skills and myself as an NHL player who can contribute," Stewart said. "It's time for me to show I can produce."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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