In the NHL universe Heatley is held more accountable than Kovalchuk, a function of being two years older and having played college hockey. If Kovalchuk, a high-maintenance player whose three penalties this season have all been for diving, seems like an oversized Bure, Heatley resembles a no-maintenance power forward like the Philadelphia Flyers' John LeClair. At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Heatley is leaner than LeClair, but he has the same laconic manner and hard shot. The puck that Heatley blew past Evgeni Nabokov from 35 feet in San Jose bore the signature of a scorer.
The eye naturally drifts to Kovalchuk because of the audacity of his style—"He's magnetic," Ferraro says—but the ice tends to tilt toward Heatley, who had a point in nine of Atlanta's first 13 games and led the Thrashers with 10. The losses last week in Los Angeles and San Jose constituted a grim regression to Atlanta's expansion roots, but Heatiey stood out like a diamond in the sky to Kovalchuk's diamond in the rough.
"You have to be careful with kids not to put too much pressure on them," Waddell says. "The number many people projected for our young guys at the start of the year was a—combined 30 goals. Maybe they'll score more. But you can see that in three or four years, these players can be 100-point guys. We didn't want them to be our best players right now, but it seems to be happening that way."
The partnership between Heatley and Kovalchuk is ripe with the possibility of greatness. In the near future the two should enable the Thrashers to shed their expansion label. Eventually they could anchor a playoff run, something to be celebrated with a Stanley couplet.