Milan Michalek proved to be well worth the wait.
Michalek scored his first NHL hat trick Thursday night to spark the Ottawa Senators to a 7-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Two of his three goals came with the Senators shorthanded.
Michalek, who came to the Senators along with Jonathan Cheechoo in the Dany Heatley trade, entered the night with only one point, a goal, in Ottawa's first five games, so the pressure was starting to build. But when Michalek connected on a power play midway through the third period to complete his big night and to give the Senators a 6-1 lead, the hats started pouring onto the ice.
"To see all the people standing and clapping for me was an awesome feeling," Michalek said. "Hopefully, there're many goals to come."
From the moment Heatley announced that he wanted to be traded this summer, there was speculation in Ottawa about what a potential deal would yield. The Edmonton Oilers seemed to be first out of the gate in the Heatley sweepstakes, and by August other teams figured prominently in the rumor mill.
The San Jose Sharks were among those teams and names were bandied about both in two-way and three-way trades. When the dust finally settled on the deal that sent Heatley to San Jose, one player involved was never even considered by most armchair general managers as being available in a potential trade -- Michalek.
Just 24 and already a fixture on the potent San Jose attack, Michalek was deemed by most outsiders as virtually untouchable. A responsible two-way performer whose maturity belies his youth, Michalek was nurtured in the San Jose organization ever since he was drafted with the sixth pick of the 2003 Entry Draft. And he responded in spades with three consecutive 20-plus goal seasons and a walloping plus-49 rating in 317 games with the Sharks.
"Michalek came into the deal fairly late," said Senators GM Bryan Murray, who had been in discussion with Sharks GM Doug Wilson about Heatley all summer. "We certainly felt that he was the quality guy that can play on our top line. We had a variety of names that we talked about and eventually I asked about Michalek.
"There were a lot of calls and negotiating and trying to make something happen that is realistic for both clubs. What we feel we're getting is a top line left winger (in Michalek) and Jonathan Cheechoo, who underachieved last year partly because of the injury factor."
While Cheechoo had been the subject of trade rumors all summer, there was no serious talk about Michalek being involved in any deal. The native of Jindrichuv Hradec in the Czech Republic was surprised by the announcement, but to his credit he has quickly adapted to his new home.
"It is a fresh start for me," Michalek said. "It's going to be different here than in California. I knew this team had a lot of great players, but when I came I realized quickly that there is an unbelievable amount of talent up front with Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher and the rest of the guys. I am happy to be here with them in the locker room, practicing with them every day, watching them on the ice. It's great for me."
Growing up in the Czech Republic, Michalek idolized Jaromir Jagr, but his mentor was his father, Milan Sr.
"My dad wasn't involved in sports but he was always a good mentor," Michalek said. "He was always there for us, drove us to practices and games. It was great. When I got traded to Ottawa I called him and he was really surprised. But it's going to be closer for them to come see me play. Instead of an 11-hour flight it will be a 6-hour flight. My family will come over and see me play."
Another person Michalek spoke with following the trade was former Senator and fellow countryman Martin Havlat, now a marquee player with the Minnesota Wild. Havlat didn't dispense any technical advice, but simply told the younger Czech to soak up the hockey culture in his new home.
"Marty told me a lot about Ottawa," Michalek said. "I asked him what it was like here and he told me a lot of great things, about all the guys he played with here, the fans being awesome, and he introduced me to some of his friends. He didn't give me particular advice on how to play. I know what I have to do -- be relaxed, play hockey and have fun."
Michalek is up for the challenge and wants to send a clear message to Senators Nation.
"I know I will work as hard as I can every shift," Michalek said. "I want to be as useful as I can for the team and do anything possible to earn the win. I know the fans love hockey here and everybody knows a lot about the game. If I have a bad game during the long season, I will have to get over it, but I'm always going to do my best and work hard.
"I would love to be used in all situations. Last year I was used on the power play as well as killing penalties, and I loved it. If I can play both here, it would be awesome. But I will give everything I have no matter what role I am given on this team."
Teammates agree that Michalek will be a big part of any Senators revival.
"Milan is a good, young guy and a big guy who skates well," Fisher said. "He is a good all-around player who is fitting in real well. Milan is a big body that can skate really well. He's got a good scoring touch and I think he has just touched upon his potential. We will be counting on him and I'm sure he is going to have a good year for us."
Material from wire services was used in this report