One thing you can say about Milan Michalek is that he’s no Dany Heatley.
And that would probably be a good thing given Heatley’s status as Public Enemy No. 1 in Ottawa these days.
But there’s little doubt the Senators success in the Heatley trade will be measured by what they get from Michalek. To that end, it doesn’t really matter whether Heatley flourishes and is a perennial 50-goal scorer for the San Jose Sharks because he put them in an untenable situation when he demanded a trade. The Senators had no choice, so the focus shifts to Michalek.
If Jonathan Cheechoo ever rediscovers anything close to the scoring touch he had when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy with 56 goals in 2005-06 and followed with a 37-goal season the next year, it will be a bonus. But to be honest, nobody is counting on that, least of all the Senators, who obviously don’t feel Cheechoo has earned a position among the team’s top six forwards.
For now, at least, Michalek has taken Heatley’s spot as the left winger on the top line alongside Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, but the fact is Michalek probably couldn’t be more different than Heatley.
And once again, that might be a good thing.
To be sure, Michalek is bigger and much more physical than Heatley could ever be. He’s just shy of four years younger than Heatley and comes with a much more manageable salary cap hit. He has been a plus player throughout his career, in part because he has played for a strong team and also because he’s a very reliable two-way player.
Like Heatley, Michalek has top-shelf speed, but unlike Heatley, Michalek definitely does not have top-shelf hands. In fact, the scouting report on Michalek is that if his hands were as good as his other attributes, he’d be a consistent 40-goal scorer instead of a consistent 20-goal scorer.
But here’s the biggest difference and it’s one the Senators might like: Michalek will work the corners for Spezza and Alfredsson the way Heatley could not. That should result in a decent number of loose pucks for Spezza to either bury himself or dish off to Alfredsson. With Michalek and Alfredsson riding shotgun, there will be even less pressure on Spezza to play defensively and that could lead to more chances as well.
Michalek has certainly been given the chance to shine. It’s time for the anti-Dany Heatley to show what he can do.
This article also appeared in the Ottawa Metro paper.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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