The 21-year-old centre rejoined the Florida Panthers on Tuesday for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs after being summoned from the AHL’s Rochester Americans. Stewart hadn’t played an NHL game since Nov. 11, 2005, when he hurt a wrist in his 10th NHL game. He was sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
He started this season with Rochester and had five goals and five assists in 22 games.
Now he’s back with the big club.
“I’m happy to be here and I’m just going to try to stick around as long as possible,” he said.
The wrist was still bothering him when the AHL season began, and he may never regain total flexibility.
“I’m just making do with what I’ve got right now,” he said. “It’s been an up-and-down season but, you know, I’ve got high expectations of myself so I know I’ve got to be better.
“I’m just grateful for this opportunity.”
He thinks he knows exactly what GM-coach Jacques Martin expects from him.
“At this level I know I’m not going to be a big-time scorer,” said Stewart. “I’m going to be a crasher and a banger. That’s what I’ll try to focus on most.”
He admits to being disappointed when other Amerks got the call from the Panthers and he stayed in Rochester.
“Yeah, especially when you think you’re higher up in the (organization’s) depth chart than that,” he said. “This feels like a long time coming, especially after being around the team last year, but I’m happy to be here now and looking forward to getting some minutes in and helping the team win.
“I’ve been looking for this opportunity all year. It’s what I’ve been working for every day down in Rochester. It’s something I’ve looked forward to for a while.”
A centre spot opened up with the Panthers when Stephen Weiss injured a shoulder last week.
Stewart was Florida’s second pick, 25th overall, in the 2003 entry draft. His first game back with the Panthers being in his home city, it was a hectic 24 hours scrambling to get tickets for family and friends.
Chris Stewart, his brother, plays for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs – the junior team Anthony was with – and was drafted 18th overall by the Colorado Avalanche last summer.