All eyes on Heatley

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:49 PM ET

As much attention as Dany Heatley gets from opponents, young and impressionable Senators watch him just as closely.

Forwards such as Nick Foligno, Jesse Winchester and Zack Smith all nonchalantly keep an eye on the “Heater,” both on the ice and off as they try to learn what it takes to become an NHL superstar.

“Unbelievable,” Foligno said when asked what kind of presence Heatley carries in the Senators dressing room. “You look at him, and he doesn’t have to say much, but you just know he’s such an elite player in this league. He doesn’t demand respect but he just gets it, because of the way he acts. It’s great having a guy like him to learn from. It’s not so much what they say, it’s more what they do.”

Smith, a 19-year-old third round pick who was sent to Binghamton as the Senators’ last training-camp cut, had his stall strategically placed alongside that of Heatley and captain Daniel Alfredsson in the Ottawa dressing room before his demotion. It only added to his hunger to get back.

“It’s unreal,” he said of the surroundings he had at Scotiabank Place. “It’s hard to imagine that, coming from playing junior a year ago to sitting beside guys like that in the locker room. They’re just the nicest guys too, it’s a pretty easy transition. They’re really friendly and make you feel part of the team.”

It’s all part of the leadership role Heatley wants to develop.

A separated shoulder in a mid-season classic against the Detroit Red Wings knocked Heatley out of the lineup for 11 games in 2007-08, and as a result, he fell short of the 50-goal and 100-point plateaus for the first time in three years. Of even greater disappointment to him, however, was the way the Senators fizzled down the stretch and in the playoffs after getting off to the fastest start in NHL history.

Heatley, who had just one assist in a four-game, opening-round sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, admits dwelling on the failure.

“Obviously, the team goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” he said when asked about the targets he has his eye on in 2008-09. “We have a lot of the same personnel that was here two years ago. We know we have it in here to play well and have a chance at it.

“Another goal is to get off to a good start and erase what happened last year. The second half of the year last year, nobody was happy with. We had a long time to think about it this summer ... to get back at it and playing the way we can is a huge goal for us.”

Personally, Heatley wants to score 50 again, and even after six seasons as one of the game’s best snipers, he doesn’t rest solely on his ability. A large net and slippery surface are situated in the backyard of his offseason summer home, and Heatley said he averages two, 20-30 minute shooting practice sessions a week.

“I’ve been in the league six years, here three years, and my job is to do what I do offensively,” Heatley said. “But I also want to bring more than that. There have been times in the last three years where I’ve been in some of those situations (penalty kill) or last minute of the games ... I’d like that to continue and increase. That comes with me becoming better in those areas, and getting chances to do that.”

His impressionable teammates will be watching.

DANY HEATLEY

Age: 27

Born: Jan. 21, 1981, Freiburg, Germany

Position: Left wing

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 220 pounds

Drafted: Second overall in the 2000 NHL entry draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.

Career notes: One of just three players (Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin) to record two 50 goal seasons in the last three years. Traded to Ottawa by Atlanta for Marian Hossa and Greg de Vries, August 23, 2005. Missed majority of 2003-04 season recovering from injuries suffered in automobile accident, Sept. 29, 2003

NHL numbers: 425 games, 221 goals, 250 assists, 471 points, 368 penalty minutes, plus-58, 1,371 shots in regular season; 34 games played, 10 goals, 25 assists, 35 points, even, 31 penalty minutes in playoffs.


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