In 2004, the NHL’s entry draft wasn’t much about who would be selected with the first two picks — for all involved it was almost a lock. Alexander Ovechkin, the enthralling talent certain to be a star in the NHL, was going to go first overall to the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin, the enigmatic centerman who was very much in the shadow of Ovechkin heading into the draft, had been pegged as the Pittsburgh Penguins pick long before draft day.
The speculation that surrounded the draft, however, was the order of the picks after that. Juxtaposed to the situation in which Washington and Pittsburgh had been thrust, the Chicago Blackhawks had the arduous task of selecting third in a draft class that had uncertainty surrounding many of the picks outside the top two. Yet, when Dale Tallon, Chicago’s general manager at the time, approached the podium on draft day, he promptly made his selection choosing Cam Barker of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. The selection, at the time, made sense in a situation where the ‘Hawks were in the midst of a massive rebuild.
Immediately after the pick had been made by Tallon and his Blackhawks and Barker et al had cleared the stage, Gary Bettman approached the microphone atop the podium to announce a trade.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, pegged to select fourth overall had dealt away their pick. The deal, made with the draft host Carolina Hurricanes, sent the crowd into an eruption of cheers. In exchange for Columbus’ fourth overall pick, Carolina traded the eighth and fifty-ninth overall selections of that days draft. The eighth pick would become winger Alexandre Picard, the fifty-ninth would turn into defenseman Kyle Wharton.
With Bettman away from the podium, it was the hometown Carolina Hurricanes turn to approach the stage and make their first selection of the ’04 Entry Draft.
Ladd, selected fourth overall, is the only 2004 First Rounder to have a Stanley Cup ring, let alone two.
As GM Jim Rutherford walked with his draft team to the stage, jersey in hand, Andrew Ladd sat amongst the crowd with his family by his side, waiting for his name to be called. Ladd, a six-foot, big-bodied, power forward and a member of the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, was just months removed from his first full major junior season, a campaign which saw the WHL rookie accumulate 75 points. To go along with Ladd’s 75 points, he showed his big game potential, adding seven points to the cause in a seven game playoff loss. Ladd not only put together a stellar total in the points column, his plus/minus rating of +39 earned him a fine piece of hardware — the WHL’s +/- Award. Ladd, the top ranked North American skater, sat as Barker was drafted ahead of him by the Blackhawks. Rutherford and the ‘Canes would not make the same mistake.
Ladd’s future, however, would be uncertain as the NHL’s lockout loomed. When the NHL chose to shut its doors for the season, Ladd spent a final year in Calgary. He would rack up 45 points and help the team into the second round of the playoffs before falling in the second round. He would record 11 points in 12 games that post-season, once again proving his worth when it matters most.
With the lockout coming to an end after a full campaign had been washed out by the NHLPA and NHL’s inability to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, Ladd’s hard work paid off as the Hurricanes assigned him not back to junior, but to the Lowell Lock Monsters, the ‘Canes AHL affiliate in Lowell, Massachusetts.
It would take just under two months for Ladd to get the call and his shot at a spot in the Hurricanes lineup. In just his third NHL game, Ladd would register his first NHL point — a goal — against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-3 shootout victory. However, a knee injury in early December would sideline Ladd for eighteen games.
In the 29 games Ladd was able to appear in in his rookie season he was able to tally 11 points (6-5) along with playing an average of just over eleven minutes a game. It would not be until the playoffs that Ladd would truly make his impact felt.
The Hurricanes would make a run all the way to the finals in 2005-06 and the young Ladd would appear in seventeen games for the ‘Canes. It was during these playoffs that Ladd would truly assert himself in his role; a physical player with the ability to deliver a jarring blow on an aggressive forecheck while also bringing forth the ability to bury from any spot on the ice with a hard and accurate shot. By all accounts, he was the prototypical power forward.
Although his ice-time would dip in the playoffs, it was an inevitability on a team that featured grizzled veterans the likes of Rod Brind’amour. By adding five points during the post-season, Ladd helped achieve what few do in a twenty-year career, let alone in their rookie campaign: winning the Stanley Cup.
Ladd would play in Carolina for the better part of two seasons after the Cup victory, putting up a respectable 11 goals and 21 points in 65 games for the ‘Canes in ’06-’07. He would follow that up with another 18 (9-9) points in 43 games before being moved just before the 2008 trade deadline.
Carolina, a team far on the outside, would trade Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks, a team slowly climbing up the standings with hopes of sneaking in as the eighth seed thanks in large part to rookie sensations Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The deal would see Tuomo Ruutu, once thought to be the great saviour of the ‘Hawks, come the other way. Ladd would finish out the season with the Blackhawks, registering an additional 12 (5-7) points, as the Blackhawks fell mere points shy of a playoff berth.
At the finality of the season, Ladd, whose rookie contract had just expired, re-signed with the Blackhawks on a deal that would see him call Chicago home for two more years at $1.55 million a season. He would not disappoint.
At the outset of the ’08-’09 season, many had chosen the Blackhawks to succeed in ways the city had not seen them in years, and it would be thanks in large part to Ladd that the once-illustrious franchise would have a resurgence. Ladd would turn in a career year, putting up career highs in goals, assists, and +/- in a season where he saw more ice-time than ever before. His 49 points were sixth on the team, while his +26 rating would be the third best on a Blackhawks squad that would reach the playoffs for only the second time in ten seasons.
Ladd, a Stanley Cup champion and one of the only players amongst a young ‘Hawks roster to have ever played in the playoffs, showed the reason why he is so valuable to the Blackhawks during their unthinkable playoff run. With a physical presence and ability to lead a one man forecheck better than almost anyone in the NHL, Ladd was able to create offensive chances and help the team gain the ever-so-valuable playoff momentum needed to make it through the grueling road that is the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Although he may not have shown up on the score sheet as much as some would have wanted, Ladd contributed by inspiring the team with his on-ice play. His 4 points (3-1) helped the Blackhawks move past both Calgary and Vancouver in six-game series, and it would be in the latter which he would play an integral part to throwing the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, and goaltender Roberto Luongo off their respective games, ultimately helping the Blackhawks win the best-of-seven series 4-2.
However, the run for those young and “know-no-better” Blackhawks would come to a screeching halt, losing in five games at the hands of the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings, the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
As the ’09-’10 season began, many puck pundits speculated that this could be the year for the Blackhawks; the team had acquired a proven veteran presence in John Madden and the Stanley Cup runner-up two years in a row in Marian Hossa. With a roster boasting Toews, Kane, Sharp, Keith, and Seabrook to go along with Ladd, the team seemed destined to come within at least a sniff of the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks would go on that season to win the Central Division title, finishing second in the Western Conference, as many had predicted prior to the outset of the campaign. With their playoff matchups set, Ladd would once again show that when it comes to big game situations, he comes to play.
His style of play was able to break down the tough trap style of the Nashville Predators, often times aiding in the Blackhawks’ ability to set up down low and create scoring opportunities. His physical presence got inside the heads of Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows, and the Vancouver D; his pesky play drawing penalties which lead to opportune moments that the ‘Hawks would capitalize on. In the Western Conference Finals, back to where the team had been just a year before, Ladd played a massive role once again.
The Blackhawks would roll through the first three rounds, making exceptionally quick work of the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals, giving Ladd the opportunity to do what is oft not even dreamt about by stars of the game: winning not one, but two Stanley Cup Championships.
Ladd, who had injured himself in the fourth and final game of the previous round, was questionable for the series against the Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers. When the Blackhawks entered the series, they seemed as though they were missing a piece, and once they got Ladd back in game five, it showed exactly what that piece was. Ladd tallied an assist in Chicago’s 7-4 victory over the Flyers, a victory that put the Hawks within one win of the Stanley Cup.
In the sixth game, a back and forth that was one of the more entertaining games of the entire playoffs, Chicago had tied the Flyers at 2 midway through the second period. At 17:43 of the second, Chicago rearguard Niklas Hjalmarsson unloaded a blast directed towards Philadelphia goaltender Michael Leighton. With Ladd rushing toward the net, the shot bore down on Leighton, and at the last moment Ladd deflected the puck just inside the near post, putting the Blackhawks up by a goal heading into the final frame. Ladd was twenty minutes away from being a hero in Chicago.
A flurry late in the third period by the Flyers gave the Blackhawks all they could handle, and eventually more, as Ville Leino would send a puck towards the goal that would careen off of several players before banking off Scott Hartnell and past Antti Niemi, tying the game at three. The sixth game of the Finals would go to overtime.
Four minutes into the overtime an Andrew Ladd forecheck led to the puck being sent up the wall, where it was stopped by Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell. Campbell walked the line before dumping the puck off to Patrick Kane in the area from where Campbell himself had come. Kane threw several head fakes on Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen before breaking toward the goal and firing a low shot that would beat Michael Leighton, capturing the Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks, their first Championship in 49 years.
The off-season, as many expected for the Blackhawks, was one which saw the team that had just won the Stanley Cup be shipped off in order to free up salary. Ladd was among those packing their bags. After a qualifying offer was rejected, it was the only move the Blackhawks were able to make. They sent Ladd to the Atlanta Thrashers on July 1st, where only days later he would file for salary arbitration.
The Thrashers, not truly knowing what they were getting in Ladd, have been far from disappointed. The team, so inspired by the play and locker room ability of Ladd, named him team captain on November 18, after only being a member of the Thrashers organization for just over a month.
At the time of writing this, Ladd is on pace for 59 points, a career high, along with already tying his career high for goals with 19 on a Thrashers team that, under his guidance on and off the ice has seen one of the most successful seasons to date even with the recent slide down the standings.
In the last Thrashers game, a contest against division rivals Carolina and an important game in Atlanta’s playoff hopes, Ladd showed once again that he is the consummate big game player. Potting two goals, as well as having nearly four or five other great chances, Ladd was creating all over the ice. His first goal, a shot block which lead to a breakaway tally, is proof that he will do whatever it takes to win, the true sign of a champion and an MVP. Ladd, while possibly one of the most underrated players in the NHL, has been given the opportunity to show what he can do given the ice-time (Ladd is seeing an average of nearly five more minutes per game from his time in Chicago).
His performance against Carolina on February 13th encapsulated all the reasons Andrew Ladd is the Thrashers MVP
An RFA on July 1st, Ladd will be looking for a significant pay raise once again. A pay raise that if the Thrashers are not willing to give, the rest of the NHL’s teams looking for that final piece will surely be clamoring to offer.
Andrew Ladd, while not the flashiest or the most outright talented, is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most valuable players to any team he is a part of and the NHL should be taking notice.