The 32-year-old Heatley hasn't produced with the Wild nearly the way he once did for Atlanta, Ottawa and San Jose, but his value was never more obvious than last April after he got hurt. The Wild went 5-6-1 in their last 12 regular season games without him, barely making the playoffs, before losing four of five to Chicago in the first round.
Over those 17 games, the Wild scored only five power-play goals in 42 opportunities.
"We really missed him," left wing Zach Parise said. "He's one of the better ones in the league who can score from five or six feet out. So he looks good. He's moving well out there, and I think that he's going to play a big role on our team."
Heatley needed surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder after a collision with a Sharks defenceman on April 3. But the bright side to the injury that kept him out of those crucial games and the Wild's first playoff appearance in five years was that Heatley got a head start on his off-season conditioning. He came back a little leaner and more determined than ever to become a 30-goal scorer again.
"I was in the gym a lot more. I feel pretty fresh coming into this camp," he said.
Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville are the skill players on the first line, but Heatley's absence and the relentlessness of the Blackhawks reminded the Wild how important forward depth is for a playoff run.
"I'd like to be able to put myself in better position to score goals. I look at our forwards, and we have a lot of talent and a lot of skill," Heatley said. "I think we have more depth than last year, depending on which of our young guys stick around. But I'm excited. We're solid on the back end, and we've got a lot of great players up front."
Heatley will likely find himself on the second line with centre Charlie Coyle, who's coming off a decent rookie season. Heatley is in the final year of his contract, making $7.5 million.
"I'm very confident that he's going to have a really good season for us," coach Mike Yeo said. "First off, he's better supported with the depth that we have in the lineup, with the skill that we have in the lineup. Skilled players need to play with skilled players to be at their best, and he's one of those guys."
Heatley once had consecutive 50-goal marks for the Senators, and he has scored 39 goals or more six times in his career. The last of those came in 2009-10 with the Sharks. He still has that 6-foot-4 frame, though, to run interference around the net and get those tip-ins and rebounds to supplement the snipers on the perimeter.
"With a big body like Dany's, especially the closer you get to the net, and his touch along there, he can score a lot of goals like he showed in the past," Koivu said. "We sure missed him last year at the end so of course he's a big help for us when he's healthy."
Heatley isn't the only player the Wild are counting on for a bounce back. Third line centre Kyle Brodziak is another one, after scoring only eight goals in 48 games and registering a team-worst minus-18 rating last season. He was sick with pneumonia early on and never fully recovered his energy and stamina.
"I feel like there is a level to my game not everybody has seen yet," Brodziak said. "I know I'm going to get there and hopefully, when I get the opportunity to do whatever role is open, I'm going to make the best of it."