Hartman: Heatley still a vital contributor to Wild

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2014 - 11:58 PM

A healthy scratch to start the Colorado series, the winger has made plays against the Avs and Blackhawks.

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Minnesota Wild left wing Dany Heatley (15) tried to get a handle on a puck in front of the Hawks net while defended by Chicago's Brent Seabrook (7) Sunday afternoon at United Center in Chicago.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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It was big news when Dany Heatley was traded to the Wild by the San Jose Sharks in July of 2011, because he was one of the bona fide stars the club added before the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter one year later.

And Heatley produced his first season, playing in all 82 games and contributing 53 points. The winger dropped to 21 points last year in a lockout-shortened season, and also didn’t appear in the playoffs because of a dislocated shoulder that required surgery. This season Heatley’s scoring took a real hit, totaling only 28 points in 76 games.

Late in the season, Wild coach Mike Yeo moved Heatley to the fourth line and also made him a healthy scratch in a few games — including the first two playoff games against Colorado — for the first time in Heatley’s long career. Still, Heatley contributed in key ways to the Wild. He was third on the team in power-play goals (four) and tied for fifth overall in goals (12) during the regular season.

And when Yeo moved Heatley back into the lineup in the Avalanche series, he rewarded the Wild coach with two assists in Game 5 and a goal and two assists in the decisive Game 7 victory for the Wild in Colorado, proving he still has a lot of value for this club.

In three games against Chicago, Heatley has maintained productivity, posting one assist and a plus-2 rating in 38 minutes, 16 seconds of ice time.

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is appreciative of what Heatley has done for the team this season.

“You have to give him a lot of credit,” Fletcher said. “He’s obviously a veteran that has played a long time in this league, and we also have a lot of extra forwards. We’ve been carrying almost 15 forwards, so every night we have to scratch three guys.

“So it’s one of those situations where if you do struggle a little bit, you’ll find yourself out of the lineup. But I think that competition really spurred him on, and he’s played very well in the playoffs. He had some stretches this season, too, particularly in January, where he played particularly well for our team. It’s about opportunity for him. He’s getting a chance to play on the power play again, he’s getting a chance to play in some situations where he can handle the puck. You have to give him a lot of credit.”

Heatley has a big contract. He signed a six-year, $45 million deal with San Jose before coming to Minnesota, and he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Fletcher was asked what he thinks of Heatley’s future with the squad.

“We’ll see at the end of the year,” Fletcher said. “His contract is up, and we can just see what the fit is going to be and for us, the key thing is we have to look at our young players and where they’re all going to fit. You want to make sure you give them an opportunity to continue to grow, whether that’s [Nino] Niederreiter or [Charlie] Coyle or maybe even Jason Zucker, you have to make sure there’s roles and opportunities for those young players. You don’t want to box them out. So we’ll sit down at the end of the year and talk to Dany and take a look and see how we end up here.”

Fletcher also was asked about the return of winger Matt Cooke, who had been suspended for seven games for a knee-on-knee hit on defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the Colorado series.

“Friday night, Game 4, he’ll be eligible to return,” Fletcher said. “That’s up to the coaches, but I’m sure he’ll be put right back in the lineup. He’s one of our top checkers and one of our top penalty killers. Certainly against a team like Chicago, his speed, his experience and his ability to help shut down top players, I think, would be most welcome by the coaching staff.”

Zimmer talks QBs

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the number of quality quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday. The Vikings have said they have at least six quarterbacks they might draft.

“We’ve probably got more than that rated, but I think [there are] six that we like the most,” Zimmer said. “You know it’s a good year for quarterbacks, and I think you can get them at any time throughout the draft.

“We’re not married to picking a quarterback. We’re going to try to get a bunch of good football players in here and try to improve the team the best we can for the long haul.”

Zimmer also was asked about taking quarterbacks after the first round, something he witnessed while he was defensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

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