Scott Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo, Nils Ekman, Mark Smith, Milan Michalek, Ryane Clowe, and even Patrick Marleau have all spent time alongside Sharks center Joe Thornton.
Not a single one of them is in same league as Dany Heatley.
Did Jonathan Cheechoo score 56 goals on line with Thornton? Yes.
Did Patrick Marleau tally 38 goals while playing with Thornton? Yes.
How many will Dany Heatley score while playing with Thornton? Seventy is not out of the question.
Let's get one thing straight, none of the aforementioned players who have played alongside Thornton in the past are pure goal scorers.
Jonathan Cheechoo has a nice shot and benefited from western conference defensemen not knowing how to defend "Big Joe" during the 2005-'06 season. Patrick Marleau has wheels unmatched by anyone and is a quality offensive threat but he will never go over the 50-goal mark. Milan Michalek and Ryane Clowe are impressive second-line players but the chances that either one of them ever reach the 70-point mark is extremely low.
And lastly, although Mark Smith was a fan favorite in San Jose, both he and Nils Ekman are scrubs.
Dany Heatley on the other hand, is a pure goal scorer. He is a perennial all-star and arguably the best player on the best team in the world (Team Canada). Now granted the 2009-'10 NHL season is just four games old, but the "Heater" is currently on pace for an 82-goal season, and he didn't even score in San Jose's first two contests.
Heatley's arrival to San Jose finally fulfills the hunger of Sharks fans who knew since the 2006-'07 season that Cheechoo was a one-hit wonder. The entire fan base understood that a player with Thornton's capabilities made his linemates better, even Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winning better like Cheechoo.
However, the question on everybody's minds was what would happen if Thornton were to play with a winger who is already a perennial all-star? Well folks, your seeing the results just four games into the 2009-'10 season.
Both Thornton and Heatley share the team lead with nine points and the newest Shark has already accomplished a feat that ironically, not a single player on last year's President's trophy-winning Sharks accomplished; he has scored a hat-trick.
In just his first game skating out of HP Pavillion's famous shark head, Heatley managed to get his new fan base to chant his name, "Dan-yy Heat-leyy! Dan-yy Heat-leyy!"
The three-goal, one-assist effort may be the reason the fans inside the Shark tank were heating up with excitement but a fact that shouldn't go unnoticed was Heatley's plus/minus. The two-time, 50-goal scorer was a plus-six in Tuesday's home opener as he was on the ice for every single Sharks score and was off the ice for each of the three Blue Jackets scores.
Compare that to last season where the Sharks only had four players (Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, Dan Boyle, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) reach a single game plus/minus as high as plus-four, and each of them only accomplished this feat once.
Yet in just four games, Heatley has managed a single-game plus/minus of plus-six? Just what can't the guy do?
Let's just say, there isn't much.
By scoring three goals in the home opener, fans saw his innate goal-scoring ability but what many Sharks fans were unaware of was the passing touch Heatley possesses. On the opening road trip Heatley was credited with four assists, but he very easily could have had five or more. In LA, Heatley set up Patrick Marleau with a 70-ft breakaway pass that was nullified by Kings net-minder Jonathan Quick who stopped Marleau's attempted back-hand shot.
Yet fans shouldn't be too surprised with Heatley's play-making ability. Granted most Sharks fans have seen very little of the super star in action, Heatley's career numbers speak for themselves. In the back-to-back seasons where the former Senator scored exactly 50 goals, he tallied more assists each season. In 2005-'06 he contributed 53 assists and in 2006-'07 he contributed 55. One-hundred-eight assists to go along with his 100 goals in two seasons.
The assist totals just go to show how much more of a complete player Heatley is compared to Cheechoo. When the former Shark set the franchise record with 56 goals, he only managed 37 assists to go with it.
Heatley's ability to be both the scorer and play-maker is what makes the Heatley-Thornton duo so extremely hard to defend. With the new duo, it does not matter who is setting up who, each player can take on the role as play-maker, and each player can take on the role as goal scorer.
However, very rarely did Sharks fans see Jonathan Cheechoo setting up Joe Thornton with a nifty pass.
Furthermore, speaking of Cheechoo, there were some fans out there disgruntled about giving up both Cheechoo and Michalek. I, for one, was indeed upset (but only for about 30 seconds) because I own a Milan Michalek jersey. Although once that feeling subsided, it was clear that the trade was yet another masterpiece pulled off by Sharks GM Doug Wilson.
If Heatley's hat-trick wasn't enough to convince the small portion of fans who still question the trade, take a gander at the following:
Games: 4 Goals: 4 Assists: 5 Points: 9 plus/minus: 2 Power-Play Points: 4 Game-winning Goals: 1 Shots on Goal: 14 Shooting percentage: .286
Milan Michalek/Jonathan Cheechoo:
Games: 6 Goals: 0 Assists: 1 Points: 1 plus/minus: -2 Power-Play Points: 0 Game-winning Goals: 0 Shots on Goal: 11 Shooting percentage: .000
It is pretty safe to say that one elite player can out-produce two struggling second-line level players.
With Heatley now in the mix, the Sharks' scoring punch is absolutely lethal and if San Jose can get their defensive issues in order, there will be no better team in the NHL come playoff time. And whether the home town fans like it or not, the Sharks may just finish first overall for the second-straight season.