When it comes to professional sports, leadership is much easier to measure in qualitative terms than quantitative ones, but in the case of Andrew Ladd and the Atlanta Thrashers, the numbers jump off the paper at you.
Since naming Ladd captain Nov. 18 the Thrashers have gone on an 11-2-2 tear, rocketing up the standings in the Southeast Division and briefly claiming sole possession of first place after a 7-1 rout of the Devils on Saturday. The Capitals regained the division lead with their win against the Senators on Sunday, but the Thrashers can take it right back if they beat the Maple Leafs on Monday.
Ladd, who at just 25 already has two Stanley Cup rings, was acquired by the Thrashers from the Blackhawks not long after they became champions in June. Already a Cup champion as a member of the Hurricanes' 2006 team, Ladd came into his own with the Hawks, recording career highs of 49 points in 2008-09 and 17 goals last season.
His 11 goals this season tie him for first on the Thrashers and his 30 points, second on the team only to Dustin Byfuglien, put him on pace for a new career high.
"I mean, I'm quiet. I think I'm more of a leader by example and in how I prepare for games," Ladd said Monday in explaining his style as captain. "Hopefully that rubs off on the guys in the room, the little details I can bring to the game."
The Thrashers had been without a captain since trading Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils in February, and first-year coach Craig Ramsay wasn't rushing to name one after the team made numerous roster moves during the offseason.
Ladd got off to a quick start in Atlanta, with 8 goals and 20 points in his first 19 games, but with the team struggling at 7-9-3 Ramsay decided it was time the "C" was stitched to his young forward's sweater.
"It's an enormous responsibility but he's well respected," Ramsay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. "He has stepped up his commitment to himself to make sure he's ready to play every night and his commitment to the team has been so evident. He's earned that. I didn't know who to pick at the start of the season and he's earned that opportunity."
A first-round draft pick by Carolina in 2004, Ladd spent parts of three seasons with the team playing alongside a player regarded as a fairly good leader in his own right -- Rod Brind'Amour.
"I think I learned that from Rod Brind'Amour my first year, is just the way you approach the game and how much respect that got from everyone in the room," Ladd said.
Ladd already has played 53 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and while his 8 goals and 15 points might peg him more as a role player than a top-line scorer, Ramsay told the Journal-Constitution it isn't necessary for Ladd to put up Kovalchuk-like numbers to be effective in the dressing room.
"I just think he's the right guy," Ramsay said. "I've seen lots of captains in my day, but he's a well-respected person, which to me is absolutely vital in that role. I think it's a flaw if you just make your best player the captain. In this case, we picked the player that's played great. He's been our best player on many nights. He's been as committed a player as I've seen in a long time."
In his first game as captain, the Thrashers shut out the Capitals 5-0 with Ladd picking up an assist that began a four-game point-scoring streak. Atlanta has been on a tear ever since, although Ladd was quick to deflect any credit he might get for the run.
"We had a bunch of new guys at the start of the year," he said. "It takes a little time for everyone to get to know the systems and the coaches to get to know the players. It just seemed to come together at that time."