ST. PAUL, Minn. – As a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach, Mike Yeo saw the very best of Dany Heatley in an Ottawa Senators uniform.
During Yeo’s first four years with Pittsburgh, Heatley scored 180 goals, including 50 twice. So the Wild coach understood the type of goal-scoring threat that he was receiving when the Wild and San Jose Sharks swapped Martin Havlat for Heatley two Julys ago.
“You’re scared to death of the guy when he’s on the ice,” Yeo said.
Still, Yeo had to be a little wary. After all, he didn’t know Heatley personally, and he was arriving with the baggage of previously asking out of two cities (Atlanta and Ottawa) and refusing to be traded to another (Edmonton).
But after getting to know Heatley, after seeing how respected a fixture he is in the Wild dressing room and how important of a leader he has become, Yeo wants to alter Heatley’s reputation among some fans and media members.
“You hear these things that were said about him before coming here and it’s undeserving and it’s something that I will definitely work to change because it’s not fair,” Yeo said. “The guy is an unbelievable guy. He’s a great pro, he’s a great teammate, he’s extremely coachable, he comes to the rink with a great attitude every day and he’s a warrior.”
Heatley, 32, has played 82 games in five of the past seven years and six times in a 10-year career. He and Kyle Brodziak were the only members of the Wild who played in all 82 games last season, and for “half a year, he was doing it on one knee,” Yeo said.
“There’s injuries that’ll keep you out and there’s most of them that you can play through,” Heatley said. “I feel good now, and that’s the bottom line.”
Playing on a line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, Heatley has scored three goals in as many games to help lead the Wild to a 2-1 record.
He is getting up and down the ice much better after offseason arthroscopic knee surgery and looks stronger.
It’s uncertain how many goals will be considered a quality year in a 48-game season, but Heatley wants to rebound after scoring 24 last season – the lowest full-season total of his career.
“I think I should have at least potted in 30 last year,” Heatley said. “With the way I’ve been getting chances the first three games, I should very easily have five or six or seven right now. But as long as I’m getting chances, I’m happy and I know I’m going to score eventually.
“I think last year I had stretches of one shot in three or four games. That’s just not going to do it for me.”
Besides playing on a knee that limited his mobility, Heatley’s game last season was hurt by Koivu missing 27 games because of shoulder and knee injuries and Pierre-Marc Bouchard missing the second half due to a concussion.
No NHL player has scored more power-play goals than Heatley (138) since he entered the league in 2001. But with those two gone, the Wild’s power play sunk to 27th.
So far, Heatley has been the great benefactor of Parise’s arrival and Koivu and Bouchard being healthy.
“Last year was an adjustment year and it was a weird year with all the injuries,” Heatley said. “I need the puck and I’m getting it now, whether it’s through passes or shots from Mikko and Zach, Butch (Bouchard) and Suts (Ryan Suter). It creates so much when those guys shoot the puck.”
Heatley says the extra time off because of the lockout allowed his body to heal. He also changed his training dramatically, working on upper-body strength and skating four days a week with the British Columbia Hockey League junior team in Kelowna. He also skated with his brother Mark’s team in Germany.