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Face Of The Future His smile reminds you of old-time players, but Dany Heatley has a sparkling all-around game that is built for the modern era

Feb. 24, 2003
Feb. 24, 2003

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Feb. 24, 2003

Face Of The Future His smile reminds you of old-time players, but Dany Heatley has a sparkling all-around game that is built for the modern era

The new face of the NHL is really an old face. Take a look at the
Atlanta Thrashers' 22-year-old Dany Heatley, with his Little
Prince ringlets and the gaping space where one of his upper teeth
used to be. Now think back to one of those classic photographs of
Philadelphia Flyers captain Bobby Clarke in the 1970s. Same mug,
right? Both are practitioners of old-time hockey, and Heatley is
essentially Clarke without the Hall of Famer's full-frontal
dental nudity.

This is an article from the Feb. 24, 2003 issue Original Layout

Heatley's Calder Trophy--winning performance last season and
his record-tying four goals at the All-Star Game three weeks
ago might make him a household name, but that smile has made
him a household face. He lost the tooth 18 months ago during a
rookie-camp scrimmage in which he was accidentally
high-sticked. Since then Heatley has gone, more or less, au
naturel.

He does have a false tooth, maybe the only thing not authentic
about Heatley, who has a zest for the game and a hybrid style
that marries superb puck skills with power-forward presence. He
inserts the tooth for formal occasions such as the press
conference after the All-Star Game, during which he parried
questions about tying the record for goals in one All-Star match,
but Heatley takes it out to play, party or pick at his pasta and
seared tuna at lunch. The problem is, he keeps losing the darn
thing and having to get replacements. He has left them in
dressing rooms, on buses, on the team plane. He has asked his
dentist to have them made in bulk so he always has a spare, like
a 50year-old who scatters drugstore reading glasses around the
house. Sure, Heatley recently signed an endorsement deal with
Coca-Cola, but there would be justice in the world if he were
shilling for the Gap.

Heatley's game, by contrast, has no obvious holes. "I've been
watching him," says Colorado Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake.
"Because of his size [6'3", 215 pounds] and skill, he's a
combination of a lot of guys. Obviously, the comparison is to
Mario Lemieux because there aren't a lot of guys that big who
have that kind of talent with the puck. What amazes me is that
it's only his second year in the league, but he wants the puck
because he knows he can make plays." The Norris Trophy--winning
defenseman had an excellent view of those skills at the All-Star
Game, when, on Heatley's first goal, the Thrashers wing beat him
with a nifty move that left Blake swimming and Western Conference
goaltender Patrick Roy exposed to the subsequent wrist shot.

Heatley's NHL-high 13 goals in January boosted his doormat of a
four-year-old franchise to a winning record (7-6-2-0) for the month
and--with his All-Star performance--enabled him to carve an
identity separate from that of teammate and sometime running mate
Ilya Kovalchuk, whom Heatley edged last year for rookie honors.
For the past season and a half they have been referred to as
Kovalchuk-Heatley or the Kids or the Goal-dust Twins, as
inseparable in the public mind as Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier.
"I think it's good for both of us, getting known on our own,"
says Heatley, a naturalized Canadian who was born in Germany and
raised in Calgary. "We came into the league together, played
together [often in 2001--02]. This will let us break out of our
shells, let us have our own style."

They remain fast friends--Heatley dined with the vacationing
Kovalchuk in Miami during All-Star weekend--but could not be more
different as players. The 19year-old Kovalchuk, who was the No. 1
pick in the 2001 draft, is a flamboyant one-way talent, a puck
hog who lives to score. (He had 30 goals and 19 assists at week's
end.) Heatley, the second pick in the '00 draft, comes without
bells or whistles but with a heavy shot (24 goals and 28 assists
through Sunday), defensive smarts, the acute sense of
responsibility that allows the Thrashers to use him on the point
of the power play, and rare leadership qualities. Suddenly the
comparison Atlantans are making is not Heatley to Kovalchuk but
Heatley to another 22-year-old team leader, Falcons quarterback
Michael Vick. "Dany pretty much gets the big picture," says
teammate Jeff Odgers, and not merely because Heatley brought back
All-Star trinkets for Odgers's two sons unsolicited.

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock says that Heatley is the leading
candidate to be the next great player--"He's so big and fearless
that he can score in traffic but also can go flying down the wing
and rip it through you from 45 feet"--although Thrashers coach
Bob Hartley topped that prediction by saying Heatley would be the
best player in the NHL soon. Despite those flattering comments
from two Stanley Cup--winning coaches, Heatley insists he's not
one of the league's top stars yet.

Since taking over for the fired Curt Fraser on Jan. 14, Hartley,
who was axed by the Colorado Avalanche four weeks earlier, has
attempted to accelerate Heatley's ascension, naming him as an
alternate captain and bumping up his minutes per game from the
20:46 he had been averaging to 22:45. In Colorado, Hartley did a
poor job developing promising young talents such as winger Alex
Tanguay and defenseman Martin Skoula, but he rewards his best
players with a conspicuous amount of ice time. By shortening his
bench and assuring that Heatley will play megaminutes, Hartley is
breaking Heatley's (and Kovalchuk's) nasty habit of taking shifts
that are too long.

There could be worse flaws for someone who would be a senior at
the University of Wisconsin if he had not heard the siren call of
the NHL. Heatley takes boyish delight in knowing that he might be
in Toronto one night, New York the next, and that his only
worries are about winning the next game. He bolts lunch on this
day because Our Lady Peace, a Canadian band, has invited him to
the sound check for that evening's concert in Montreal. He has
met The Tragically Hip. He would have gone backstage to meet
Bruce Springsteen when he played in Atlanta in December, but the
security guards didn't recognize him. Perhaps he should have
smiled.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (HEATLEY) DANY HEATLEY2003COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN BOBBY CLARKE1976COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO HOT STUFF Hartley says that Heatley will soon be the league's best player.