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Heatley looks for rebound after worst season

by Brian Schiazza

For all of the ballyhoo the Minnesota Wild received after landing the two premium free agents this summer in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, it’s easy to forget they already had a two-time 50-goal scorer in the fold.

Dany Heatley figures to benefit most from the free-agent arrivals following a second straight season in which his goal-scoring dipped.

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Heatley is one of the NHL’s top 10 leaders in total points, power-play goals and game-winning goals since 2001. He’s had back-to-back 100-point seasons and won a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. But a hefty $7.5 million salary-cap hit and five straight seasons of declining production are red flags on Heatley, who is still just 31 years old.

Though Heatley led the Wild in scoring with a career-low 24 goals and 53 points, the absence of center Mikko Koivu for 27 games put a damper on his production. Without Koivu to get him the puck and no accomplished center to collaborate with, opposing teams would zero in on Heatley, who was hampered also by a knee injury as the Wild missed the playoffs.

Despite the injury, Heatley played all 82 games and led by example in establishing a new team culture for first-year coach Mike Yeo.

"I can go on for an awful long time about the pleasure that I had working with Dany Heatley," Yeo told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "The guy shows up and competes day after day. He pays a price; he goes to the hard areas."

With hometown boy Parise squarely in the spotlight after signing a monster 13-year deal to play in the Twin Cities, the pressure on Heatley should ease.

Presuming Parise, Suter, prized rookie Mikael Granlund and a healthy Koivu help comprise a power-play unit that reverses the Wild’s man-up woes from last season, the best sign for Heatley should come in the form of using his lethal shot to add to his 136 career power-play goals, which are seventh among active players.

What also bodes well is that Heatley’s knee feels "better than it has in four or five years," following minor surgery. He expects to be at 100 percent for the upcoming season, when the Wild will be looking for his return to being an offensive force.

"Guys like that need people to get 'em the puck, and he never once complained [last season]," Yeo told the Pioneer Press. "Every day he came to the rink and kept trying to push the group and lead the group. And you'll see a lot of goal scorers, they'll take shortcuts, they'll cheat, especially when things aren't going well, and he was never like that."

Follow Brian Schiazza on Twitter: @NHLSkeetz

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