TORONTO - Anthony Stewart hasn't played an NHL game since the lockout two years ago, but the former first-round draft pick isn't giving up on making a comeback.
After a brief stint in the Kontinental Hockey League earlier this season, the 29-year-old forward from Lasalle, Que., is skating with the Ryerson University team to stay in shape until he finds his next opportunity.
"A lot of guys haven't played a game (in the NHL) since and ultimately, that's my goal to get back to the NHL," Stewart said in an interview this week. "But having a young family, I have to play, and play in the highest league as possible so, Europe is where my job takes me now."
Earlier this season, Stewart recorded a goal and an assist in 12 games for the KHL's Medvescak Zagreb before being released from a tryout.
Rather than wait by the phone, he's been skating with the Rams for nearly five weeks.
"It's a skating game out in Europe and it's hard to sit around for a month or two just on the couch, hoping to go back over there and be an impact player," Stewart said before Rams practice. "It's great being out here, the guys are great, no one is taking it easy on me and it's definitely a good experience."
The six-foot-three Stewart was selected 25th overall by the Florida Panthers at the 2003 NHL draft. His last two seasons in the NHL were the best of his six in the league. In 2010-11, Stewart had 14 goals and 25 assists in 80 games with the Atlanta Thrashers. The next season he collected nine goals and 11 assists in 77 games with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The next season was marred by the NHL lockout and Stewart has been trying to resurrect his career ever since, playing for pro teams in places like Manchester, N.H., Nottingham, England, and Yekaterinburg, Russia.
"Well I would say (the lockout had) a great impact because I haven't played since, but that's part of the business," said Stewart, whose brother Chis plays for the Buffalo Sabres.
Stewart is joined at Rams practices with fellow free agents Matt Pelech, a 2005 first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames, and Akim Aliu.
Pelech split time in 2013-14 between the San Jose Sharks and the AHL's Worcester Sharks. In the AHL, Pelech had 238 penalty minutes in 2012-13 before adding another 73 to his total last year.
Aliu spent parts of two seasons with the Calgary Flames and played in 10 games this season with the AHL's Rochester Americans, where he had four points before being released from a tryout.
Stewart says that he won't go back to the KHL, but would be open to playing in Switzerland, where he spent time last year, Sweden or Germany.
He has recently changed his agent, which has delayed the process of finding another job, but he hopes to have a new place to play within a couple weeks.
"I'm open to maybe going back to the AHL and trying it out again, or wait until next year to try the NHL," Stewart said. "Right now I'm looking to go back to Europe and we'll see."
"I'm confident in my game that I still have a lot of game left… a lot of years left, so we'll see where that goes."