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Andrew Ladd returns to Chicago a more complete player

In this photo taken on Monday, July 19, 2010, Atlanta Thrashers forward Andrew Ladd, formerly of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, spends his day with the Stanley Cup atop Crown Mountain, British Columbia., north of Vancouver. Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, was flown by helicopter to the top of Crown Mountain to watch the sunrise. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark L. Johnson)

The last time Andrew Ladd was on the ice as a member of the Blackhawks, he was unsuccessfully trying to chase down Patrick Kane as he celebrated his Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal in Game 6 against Philadelphia in 2010. Ladd didn’t even realize Kane had scored until a jubilant Patrick Sharp nearly bowled him over in the slot.

It was a moment of sheer joy, delirious excitement — much like that whole postseason run. But the celebration didn’t last long. Three weeks later, Ladd was an Atlanta Thrasher.

“It was an exciting time for all of us,” Ladd said. “The city was electric, and we just had such a close-knit group of guys that it was an exciting time for everyone. Then the reality kind of hit — OK, not everyone’s going to be sticking around.”

Ladd, reacquired by the Hawks on Thursday in the latest trade-deadline splash by Stan Bowman, was just one part of the Hawks’ offseason purge that summer. And it’s a sign of just how remarkable that 2010 team was that so many went on to become stars in their own right. Ladd went from a third-liner to a top-liner. Dustin Byfuglien became an All-Star defenseman. Kris Versteeg became a top-line winger for multiple teams, and won another championship during his second stint in Chicago. Brian Campbell and Troy Brouwer left a year later and became even more productive.

The Hawks’ depth players became other teams’ centerpieces. And perhaps nobody’s evolution was as impressive as Ladd’s, as he did it all for the Thrashers/Jets — he was a four-time 20-goal scorer, a penalty-killer, a power-play specialist, a captain.

“Everybody that was on that team has gone on and done well for themselves,” Duncan Keith said. “It was a great team in 2010, and I think that we all have that bond and that friendship still. So it’s a great feeling when you add another guy like that.”

Ladd is as excited as anyone to come back to Chicago and chase a third Stanley Cup (he won one as a role player with Carolina in 2006) and to show how much he’s grown as a player. He’s still the same physical, straight-line player he was back in 2010. But he’s more skilled now, more confident, more experienced, and certainly more of an ideal fit to play alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa than any other left wing on the Hawks roster.

“I think my game has really evolved since that point,” Ladd said. “I’ve been put in a lot of different positions and definitely played more of an offensive role in different spots. It was a tough moment [to leave Chicago]. You obviously don’t want to leave, but I think it was good for my career. I’m excited to come back and really show what my game’s all about now.”

Ladd has maintained close friendships with many of his old teammates, seven of whom are still on the roster (eight if you count Bryan Bickell). He knows his linemates, knows his coach, knows the Hawks’ system, knows the city. He also knows what a tremendous opportunity he has to chase another championship after years of wallowing in mediocrity (or worse) in Winnipeg.

Ladd would love to be more than a rental, to stay in Chicago beyond the next few months. It’s unlikely, though, given he reportedly had asked Winnipeg for a six-year deal worth more than $6 million a season. But just like in 2010, he’ll worry about that later. For now, Ladd and his old (and new) teammates are just happy to get the band back together.

“You see guys go on and assume more responsibility, assume a little more spotlight and kind of more of a top role on another team – it’s not an easy thing to do,” Toews said. “He’s done a great job for his team in Winnipeg. You can see under those circumstances what type of player he is. He brings it every year and every night. We’re looking forward to having him back here.”

NOTE: Jiri Sekac was placed on waivers, according to multiple reports.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter @marklazerus