Stealth Milan Michalek making his mark

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
12:36
PM ET
So, tell us, what name doesn’t quite fit: Phil Kessel, Jonathan Toews or Milan Michalek?

All three entered Thursday night’s NHL games tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead with 17.

Kessel is a proven goal-scorer, Toews is a superstar and Michalek is part of the package that was forced down Ottawa’s throat two and a half years ago when Dany Heatley requested a trade out of Canada’s capital.

Funny how things work out sometimes, eh?

“Milan has been a real good player for us this season,” Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Thursday.

Michalek is one goal away from tying his entire goal tally from last season, and easily on pace to eclipse his career high of 26 goals he set in 2006-07 with the San Jose Sharks.

[+] EnlargeMilan Michalek
Travis Golby/NHLI/Getty ImagesMilan Michalek is tied for the league lead in goals with 17.
The difference this year? Health. After battling serious knee problems the past few years -- we’re talking ACL surgeries -- Michalek is feeling as good as he’s felt in a long time.

“There’s no question that knee injury really hurt him and set him back,” Murray said. “That’s the real difference this season; he was able to work hard over the summer. He came to camp in great shape and his skating is really good at this point.’’

Murray’s trade talks with Sharks GM Doug Wilson in the summer of 2009 dragged into September. Murray says he also wanted to get Christian Ehrhoff in the package and when San Jose dealt Ehrhoff to Vancouver instead that summer, that delayed things. In the end, with September upon them and camps opening, Murray settled for Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second-round draft pick (later traded away).

“But we liked Milan from the beginning of those conversations,” Murray said. “We liked his skating ability and his work ethic.”

The trade stung at the time, however.

“When Dany was here, he was a 50-goal scorer for us,” Murray said. “So you couldn’t be happy a player like that leaving you unless you got great return. But Milan has come on, he’s a very useful player; he kills penalties and does all the rest. At this point it’s worked out real well.’’

Heatley has since been dealt from San Jose to Minnesota for Martin Havlat, another former Senator. Heatley carried eight goals into the Wild’s game at Los Angeles on Thursday night, which was seven better than Havlat -- who still hasn’t found his way in San Jose.

It’s only 10 weeks into the season, but it’s Michalek -- the lesser of those three names -- enjoying the most success.

"If I can score 30, it would be nice," Michalek shyly told Ottawa writers earlier this week.

The local media in Ottawa asked Michalek about the Heatley comparisons, but the humble Michalek wouldn’t bite, citing that he and Heatley are different players.

Murray didn’t fully know what he was getting in Michalek. Now he does.

“You think you know guys from scouting them, but until you get walking into the arena with him and talking with him, he’s a real quality guy,” Murray said of Michalek, who signed for two more years after this season at a $4.33 million cap hit.

They say sometimes it’s the trades you never make that turn out to be for the best. In this case, it’s the trade Murray never wanted to make that turned out just fine.

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