Rodney Williams and Dany Heatley are, undoubtedly, among the most naturally talented players on their respective teams. Heatley twice scored 50 goals in an NHL season. Williams jumps higher than most of us would if we were taking off from the third step of a ladder. Often recently, though, the notion of their talent has transformed into a discussion of potential -- and whether it is being fulfilled.
Heatley, who has just six goals this season, could be the Wild's first true scoring star since Marian Gaborik. Williams has shown flashes of brilliance, but he's also shown a tendency to disappear. In his final two games at the Old Spice Classic -- 52 combined minutes of court time -- Williams had one rebound. To those who watch him leap, that number is just baffling.
Wednesday, then, provided some encouraging -- and important -- moments for both. Starting at power forward instead of small forward in place of the injured Trevor Mbakwe, Williams was fabulous in a 58-55 victory over Virginia Tech. It wasn't just his 14 points and 8 rebounds in 38 tough minutes, but also the way he accumulated those numbers. It was very much a half-court, grind-it-out type of game. Often, those have been the types of games in which Williams drifts and becomes nearly invisible. Instead, this time, he delivered -- including a signature dunk off a post-up that gave the Gophers a late lead in a big victory.
Heatley's contribution was perhaps more subtle and/or singular. But anyone watching last night's Wild game -- which we conveniently could focus on for the entire third period after the Gophers game ended -- saw the very likely chance that one point was going to slip away. After failing to capitalize on an overtime power play and also failing to seal the deal in a shootout when Edmonton was down to a must-make scenario, the Wild found itself needing Heatley to score to avoid a defeat. Heatley's all-time shootout numbers are atrocious -- we don't have them in front of us and can't find them, but we winced when we saw the graphic last night -- but in this must-have situation he came through with a bull-rush to the net and a low shot that slipped in just before he crashed into the cage. One round later, Kyle Brodziak scored to secure another one of those all-important points that we should remember in April.
It was just one night -- and two entertaining, tight games that ended in Minnesota victories. But on Wednesday, at least, Williams and Heatley transformed their potential into clutch performances.