Editor’s Note: It’s “Underdog” week at SB Nation, and, here at Canes Country, we’re going to be taking a look back at some of the more memorable underdog players in the team’s history. The Hurricanes have had a number of players who exceeded expectations as a low draft pick, undrafted player, bargain free agent or seemingly minor trade to carve out a role and become a fan favorite. Today, I’m starting with a player who epitomized heart and hustle in his time wearing the sightless eye: Chad LaRose.
Chad LaRose came to the Canes as an undrafted free agent. Despite leading the Plymouth Whalers (owned at the time by then-Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr.) with 117 points in 67 games in 2002-03, and attending the Detroit Red Wings’ training camp in 2001 and 2002, he could not entice an NHL team to use a draft pick on him.
That was to the Hurricanes’ benefit, as they signed LaRose in 2003. After spending time with the Florida Everblades (former ECHL affiliate) and Lowell Lockmonsters (former AHL affiliate), LaRose made his NHL debut in the 2005-06 season, and posted 85 goals and 180 points in 508 regular-season games over eight seasons (ending with 2012-13), with a career high of 19 goals in 2008-09 and 2011-12, and 32 points in 2011-12.
Those numbers don’t tell the story of LaRose’s time with the Hurricanes, though. They don’t come particularly close.
On the ice, he was versatile, and played his tail off every shift, which was no surprise given his background. He worked hard to get to the NHL, and he worked even harder to stay there.
He brought speed and grit to any line he was on, and was capable on the forecheck. He could be a third or fourth-line grinder/depth scorer, and was capable of filling a speed/grit role on a top line in a pinch. His career-best seasons coincided with more time on the top line alongside Eric Staal.
He was also a great penalty killer, and scored eight career shorthanded goals for the Canes.
LaRose was not suited for a top-line role long term, and through no fault of his own, became a scapegoat for some portions of the fanbase towards the tail end of his tenure when the Hurricanes’ depth issues necessitated a top-six role for him.
That’s not to say LaRose was devoid of skill, however. He was good for the occasional “pretty” breakaway goal.
LaRose, of course, was also part of two magical playoff runs during his time in Carolina. He has his name on the Stanley Cup as a Hurricane, playing a depth role on the fourth line in 2006 run with an assist in 21 games.
In the 2009 run to the Eastern Conference Finals run, LaRose made a much bigger impact. He joined the top line with Staal and Ray Whitney about halfway through the first-round series against the Devils, and his hustle and forechecking ability proved to be perfectly suited to playoff hockey. LaRose posted four goals and 11 points over 18 games in that run.
What endeared “Rosie” to the Caniacs, however, more than anything he did on the ice, was his personality. LaRose seemingly always had a smile on his face, and was known to joke around with his teammates.
He even received a third-place vote for the Lady Byng Trophy during the 2006-07 season, and had a TV campaign for the 2011 All-Star game.
LaRose always had time for the fans, and was always willing to stop and chat or sign an autograph (including one for yours truly at the 2011 Summerfest.)
Chad LaRose beat the odds as an undrafted player to carve out a meaningful role on and off the ice over eight seasons, and is perhaps the Hurricanes’ best example of an “underdog” player.
Stay tuned for several more installments to this series over the rest of this week.