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Confident Ladd Showing His Promise

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes

Andrew Ladd was parked in his usual spot in front of the opposing net, taking punishment from the New Jersey defense while blocking the view of goaltender Martin Brodeur, when he scored his ninth goal of the season by redirecting Tim Gleason's shot from the point.

The only problem was that he didn't touch the puck. And he was the only one who knew it.

Rather than taking false credit for the goal, which would have been easy to do, Ladd reported that fact to team officials, who made the official scoring change. Gleason, a stay-at-home defenseman, was credited with his first goal of the season and first since April 4th of last year.

That meant that Ladd, who had as big of a part in creating that goal as any Hurricane by making sure Brodeur couldn't see the shot, would not even earn an assist on the play.

It's that kind of selfless attitude that has made the 21-year-old Ladd such a success in the latter part of his sophomore season in the NHL. While set up in his "office" in front of opposing goaltenders, the 6-foot-2, 201 pound left wing takes countless shots from opposing players while bravely positioning himself directly in front of shots from his own teammates.

"That's part of my game, ever since I was in junior I guess," said Ladd, who taken with the fourth overall pick by the Hurricanes at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh. "Against a good goalie you need to create a little chaos. In tight games where you've got to get those garbage goals and rebounds, hopefully it helps in that."

Ladd has been making a living for himself with those types of plays lately. He may not always get the glory, but his offensive instincts, physical play and the ability to get under his opponents' skin have reminded some of former Hurricane Gary Roberts, who put up similar scoring numbers to Ladd in his first two NHL seasons.

But things weren't always so bright for Ladd this year. After playing significant time in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, it took him most of the first half of this season to get himself healthy and earn the trust of the Hurricanes coaching staff.

After complaining of a stomach ache in December, Ladd underwent an emergency appendectomy and missed eight games. It took him longer than that to rediscover his play, as his ice time dwindled considerably afterwards; culminating with the game against the Islanders on January 6th when he dressed but never left the bench to play a single shift.

After that, Ladd privately told Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette that he wanted the opportunity to play more often and be a bigger contributor to the team.

"I was just frustrated with not playing, and wanted to know how I could go about getting more ice time and find out what I was doing wrong," he said. "I had a conversation with him, he had some good feedback for me, and I just waited for my chance after that."

Ladd got the chance he wanted. After averaging only four minutes and 35 seconds of ice time in the beginning of January, he has risen to an average of 15 minutes and 15 seconds thus far in March.

He has made the most of that opportunity by scoring seven points in his last eight games, not including plays he makes in front of the net that lead to goals put don't necessarily put him on the score sheet. Before that, he had only 17 points in his first 51 games.

"I think he's been effective all over the ice," said Laviolette. "His physical play, his pursuit of the puck and his tenacity in front of the net. He's really a guy that when you ask someone to go stand in front of the goaltender and screen him, he gets right in front of him and takes a beating."

Ladd's emergence as a genuine scoring threat has been a huge part of the Hurricanes' solid play throughout the month of March. While the Hurricanes didn't make a single move on the day of the trade deadline in late February, Ladd's rise to prominence has given them the scoring boost they needed without having to give anything up in exchange.

According to Ladd, the difference between his play now and his play earlier in the season is his level of confidence.

"The more ice time you get, the more confident you get with the puck, and the more you're handling the puck, the more plays you become comfortable making," he said. "I feel a lot more confident out there now handling the puck and trying to beat guys, getting to the net and trying to overpower guys."

Besides just playing more, Ladd has also been placed on scoring lines with some of the team's best forwards. His current line mate, 12-year veteran winger Scott Walker, has witnessed Ladd's development as a player over the last few months firsthand.

"Andrew Ladd, you know what you're going to get," said Walker. "It's not like it's either going to be this night or that night for him. Once the coach, your players and your line mates know what to expect every night, then that's when you become a solid player. I think he's going to be a great player for years to come, but I think out of this whole year, his consistency has been tremendous."

Now that he knows what it takes to be successful on both ends of the ice and has earned the trust of teammates and coaches alike, Ladd hopes to display that kind of consistency for the rest of this year and beyond.

"I think I've elevated my game," he said. "It might be easier when you play more and you feel more confident out there. [Coach Laviolette] has shown a lot of confidence in me in certain situations, and I've kind of fed off that I guess. I'll just try to keep doing good things."

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