Is This Milan Michalek's Breakout Year?

Michalek tries to score in the 5-2 victory over the leafs on Nov 12, 2011 (Photo Credit: AP)

Michalek tries to score in the 5-2 victory over the leafs on Nov 12, 2011 (Photo Credit: AP)

Ever since being acquired by Ottawa, Milan Michalek has had to endure comparisons to Dany Heatley. As the only truly valuable asset received by the Senators in the Heatley trade, Michalek has always had the pressure of being his replacement. Now I’m not saying Sens fans were expecting 50 goal seasons from him, but most were expecting him to be a solid top 6 forward. In San Jose, Michalek was a consistent scorer, averaging over 20 goals and 50 points over his 4 full seasons played. The question for many Sens fans was whether Michalek could translate those skills to a Senators team that had just lost their biggest goal scoring threat in franchise history.

His first season with the Senators (2009-2010) probably didn’t go as he had hoped. Although he did put up 22 goals, he was only able to notch 12 assists, giving him a career low 34 point season (one less than his rookie season in San Jose). However, it must be noted that he also played a career low 66 games, losing 16 to injury. Nevertheless, Senators fans were impressed throughout the season at Michalek’s speed, reminding some of former #9 Martin Havlat. Michalek likely led the Senators in breakaway attempts as he consistently was able to use his speed to find his way past defenders. Unfortunately for Michalek, disaster would strike in the playoffs.

The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs 1st round series against Pittsburgh would mark Michalek’s first (and thus far only) playoff game with the Senators. Trying to play through a partially torn left knee through the use of a brace, Michalek would end up suffering a full tear of his left ACL in the first game of the series. Michalek’s injury was likely one of the reasons that the Senators would fall to the Penguins in 6 games. However, what concerned most Sens fans was the type of injury Michalek suffered. In San Jose Michalek had already had two right ACL tears, both requiring surgery. This left ACL tear would mark Michalek’s third major surgery on his knees. Although the torn ACL was not on the same side as the two ACL tears with San Jose, many wondered if this third major knee surgery would affect Michalek’s speed, arguably his most valuable skill.

Michalek would return in the 2010-2011 season, but many noticed that Michalek seemed to be affected by his left knee surgery. He didn’t show the same jump or speed to start the season that he did the year before. Perhaps it was the nerves of returning from a third major knee surgery, but Michalek certainly had a slow start to the season. He would end up setting a new career low of 33 points (and missing the 20 goal mark, finishing with 18 goals). Nevertheless, one must take into account that he once again had a career low 66 game season as well as the fact that this was just a terrible year overall for the entire Senators team.

Fast forward to now, the 2011-2012 season. Michalek is now in his third season with the Senators and is fully healthy and it shows. Sens fans have already noticed his speed return, which still surprises many considering the amount of surgeries he has had on his knees. With a young Senators team, Michalek also faces the fact that he is one of the few remaining veteran scorers up front and thus is expected to perform as such. At 26 years old as well, Michalek is also at the age where most players will hit their prime.

The Ottawa Senators are 18 games into the season and Michalek is leading the way.  Finding himself as a RW on the first line instead of his usual LW position throughout his career has led to a very productive season thus far. He already has 11 goals, halfway to his career high in goals as a Senator and 15 away from his career high in goals as a Shark. Michalek is also second on the team in point at 16 (1 behind Jason Spezza). That leaves him only 18 points away from matching his career high in points as a Senators. It also opens up the the possibility of him having a career year where he may surpass his career high of 66 points in a season in 2006-07 as a Shark.

The big question this season that still remains is whether Michalek can remain healthy. He has only played 66 games in each of the previous two seasons. If he can, it is very likely that he will have a career year and solidy himself as a top 3 player who will be a big part of the Senators rebuild. Plus there’s no better way to finish this post then to mention that Michalek currently has as many goals as Heatley does points. How’s the trade looking now?

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