SAN JOSE – Anthony Stewart had a few options as an unrestricted free agent, but ultimately chose to sign a tryout with the San Jose Sharks based on some recent history.
The 28-year-old winger, an imposing presence at six-foot-three and 230 pounds, is aware that Brad Winchester was offered a contract after attending Sharks camp on a PTO (pro tryout) in 2011. His aim is to prove to the Sharks’ coaching staff and front office that he deserves a chance to continue his NHL career in a teal sweater, after splitting time in a league in England and the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs in 2012-13.
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In 262 career NHL games with Florida, Atlanta and Carolina, Stewart has 27 goals and 44 assists for 71 points and 123 penalty minutes.
“I think you’ve just got to impress a little bit every day, and show something new every day,” Stewart said. “Being a big body, I’ve just got to go out there and skate and use my big body to my advantage and try to keep it as simple as possible. Get down low, get to the net, crash the net hard, and so far so good.”
Stewart didn’t find the back of the net in the Sharks’ first scrimmage on Friday, skating mainly on a line with Bracken Kearns and Freddie Hamilton in what could probably be described as the fifth line. He did get a chance late in the game to play wing alongside Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl on the third line, though.
He downplayed the line change.
“I think it was just random that I was out there with them, but it was good to get out there and show different things,” Stewart said. “My game has got to stay the same whether I’m playing with Pavelski, Kearns, or whoever it may be. I’m just trying to keep it as simple as possible, and go from there.”
The Sharks are already one of the biggest teams in the league. Still, Stewart could potentially fill the role of 13th forward, with the ability to add some bulk to the third or fourth lines, perhaps as an occasional replacement for a player like, say, James Sheppard.
A veteran of parts of six NHL seasons and the brother of the St. Louis’ Blues’ Chris Stewart, the 2003 first round draft pick is confident he could be an effective player in San Jose’s lineup.
“I think I fit really well in the system with being a big body that can skate really well,” he said. “My bread and butter is getting in first on the forecheck, and separating the D from the puck, and just giving D a hard time throughout the game. I can work the walls and get to the net.”
Todd McLellan said: “I’m still getting to know him as an individual, and he’s getting to know me and what’s expected of him. We’ve tried to simplify things for him, and give him areas that we think he can be successful in, and we’ll stress those areas more than others. … He can be that kind of player where he uses his body, keeps plays alive, bullies his way to certain areas of the rink. If he does those things, he’s got a great chance.”
Another benefit of having Stewart around is keeping current players on their toes, and perhaps serving as a reminder that roster spots and ice time will have to be earned.
That was part of McLellan’s message to his team when camp opened earlier this week.
“Like I said to the guys the other day at the opening meeting, when I met with most of them at the end of the year, everybody wanted more minutes,” McLellan said. “I told them that the league didn’t change the rules; we still only have 60. If they understand that they create the amount of ice time for themselves or their line, by being effective or ineffective, it’s very powerful.”