WINNIPEG - Mark Stuart knows exactly what it’s like to have to come in and impress new management.
As someone who was acquired by the Atlanta Thrashers prior to the NHL trade deadline last February, Stuart had a 23-game audition to make his mark.
Now that the Thrashers have transformed into the Winnipeg Jets and management has been overhauled, in some ways Stuart is starting fresh again and jockeying for position on the depth chart.
“I know I’ve put in the work in the summer and I’m feeling confident,” Stuart said in a recent interview. “It’s been a long wait. Competition is good and if you don’t have competition, something is wrong. It pushes guys and we have a lot of competition at every position really.
“I just concentrate on my job, do the best I can and the rest works itself out. Going from Boston to Atlanta, my role didn’t change very much, other than the fact I was one of the older guys.”
Much like his teammate Blake Wheeler, who was picked up in the deal for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik, Stuart had mixed emotions when he watched the Bruins defeat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
“To be honest with you, it was probably one of the toughest nights of my life,” said Stuart, who has 14 goals, 29 points and 308 penalty minutes in 306 NHL games. “I was happy because I have a lot of friends on that team. You’re really sad because you’re not part of it but you have a smile on your face as well when you see this guy or that guy carrying the Cup around.
“It was a very strange situation.”
Having an opportunity to play with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was invaluable for Stuart.
“That was huge,” said Stuart. “When I first got there, Brian Leetch was there. And all of those guys taught me to be a pro really. With Chara, you saw his off-ice work ethic. You see how fit he is and that’s something I took from him.”
Stuart is known as a guy who can be a physical force.
“He’s one of the best open-ice hitters in the game — he does a great job as far as letting the other forwards know that in the open ice, you better keep your head up. He’s tremendous at that,” said Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey. “The crowd is going to love the way he plays.”
At 27, Stuart quickly found himself a place in the leadership group on a young team.
“He’s just a great presence and a guy everyone looks up to and respects,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “On the ice, he’s the kind of guy who will do anything for his teammates and just plays a tough, rugged game. He’s going to be a big piece going forward.”
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
HOMETOWN: Rochester, Minn.
WEIGHT: 213 pounds
— Drafted by Boston Bruins in first round (21st overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft
— Had 2G, 4A, 6P in 54 GP last season with the Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers
— Acquired with Blake Wheeler in a trade with Bruins for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik