|Senators forward Milan Michalek, who's had his two previous seasons in Ottawa interrupted by injury, is hopeful the third year in the nation's capital is the charm in terms of good health (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
Milan Michalek has a simple goal.
While the speedy Ottawa Senators forward would no doubt like to see increases in his offensive totals, that's also a likely byproduct of his biggest wish — to finally go through a season without having to battle the injury bug.
"That's the No. 1 thing for me, to stay healthy," Michalek said during a training camp break. "Hopefully, I'll do that. I feel great now. Everything feels good, so I hope it stays that way and I can be a good player for Ottawa."
When the Senators acquired the native of Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic, on the opening day of training camp in September 2009, it was believed — especially in the Ottawa camp — that they'd picked up a player who was still an emerging talent.
Michalek racked up more than 20 goals and 55 points in three of his four seasons with the San Jose Sharks, the team that made him the sixth overall pack of the talent-rich 2003 NHL Entry Draft. In 2006-07, he totalled 26 goals and 66 points, offering a hint of what might be to come.
But the 26-year-old left-winger surely wasn't counting on the injuries that would hamper him during his time in Ottawa. After a hot start in 2009-10, Michalek's season was cut short by a left knee injury that would required surgery to repair a torn ACL. The recovery lingered into the 2010-11 campaign, with Michalek sitting out four games at the beginning of November when it flared up.
Then, just when Michalek was starting to hit his stride, he suffered a broken foot in a Feb. 26 game against the Philadelphia Flyers. That cost him more than a month of action. So needless to say, Michalek can't help but break into a smile when it's suggested he appears to be showing some of his old form in the current training camp. His speed has been evident in the two goals he's produced so far in two pre-season appearances.
"I feel great," said Michalek, who's totalled 40 goals and 27 assists over the course of his two seasons with the Senators. "I work hard every summer (but this year), I did more stuff with my legs and my knee. I feel much better now, I'm in better shape, and I feel better on the ice. It’s good ... I just hope it's going to stay like that."
Despite everything he's endured in Ottawa to date, Michalek doesn't feel snakebitten by the injury bug. Then again, this is a guy who missed a combined 13 games in his first four National Hockey League seasons with the Sharks. He surpassed the number in his first year alone in Ottawa, playing just 66 games — the same number he suited up for last season.
"I don't normally think about it (that way)," he said. "If something happens, it's hockey and you have to deal with it. I did it in the past and I just hope it's behind me now, so I can start fresh and new. Hopefully, things are going to go right for me now."
Maybe the third season in Ottawa can indeed be the charm for Michalek, who wants the Senators and their fans to see more of the player he was earlier in his career with San Jose.
"Hopefully, I’m healthy and I can be the player I was before and contribute with goals and points," he said. "I’ll do everything I can on the ice to be the (best) player I can."
On a Senators team that could be challenged offensively, his contributions could be vital.
"(Michalek) is a very important part of our offence," said Senators head coach Paul MacLean. "He can be a threat every time he's on the ice and we don't have a lot of those guys ... He played well in the two (pre-season) games and the only thing, if anything, that’s holding Milan back is staying healthy.
"If he could play the whole 82 games or the bulk of the schedule, I think you’d find that you have the player that everyone’s expecting him to be."
Like a lot of the team's veterans, Michalek is enjoying the spirit being brought to this camp by the new influx of youth on the team — not that he's a golden oldie, mind you.
"I guess I'm getting older when I see all these young guys now," he said with a laugh. "They bring lots of enthusiasm in the room. It's new in the locker room. They're rookies, so it's always something (new) every day and it brings a lot of fun to the locker room."