Wisconsin sophomore forward Dany Heatley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, has signed a three-year deal with the Atlanta Thrashers. The signing was announced today at Turner Field to coincide with the Atlanta Braves’ baseball home opener against the New York Mets. The Braves and Thrashers are each owned by AOL Time Warner.
Today’s announcement confirmed college hockey’s worst-kept secret. Since the beginning of the season, across-the-board speculation assumed that this would be Heatley’s last year at Wisconsin.
Heatley, 20, was reportedly set to sign with Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, which would have given him a chance to get some games under his belt, but squabbling over bonus money — which is not capped by the NHL’s rookie limit — stalled the negotiations.
The rookie salary cap allows a maximum of $1.075 million annually for a 2000 first-round pick. But, Calgary radio station CHQR, citing sources close to Heatley’s family, says he could earn up to $11 million with bonuses.
Heatley, a Hobey Baker Award finalist, led the Badgers with 57 points in 39 games this season, nearly doubling his next-highest teammate. Heatley was named WCHA Rookie of the Year and Second Team All-American when he led Wisconsin with 28 goals in just 38 games last season.
Atlanta general manager Don Waddell, a former player at Northern Michigan, was quoted in Atlanta newspapers saying that Heatley would not dress for the remaining three Thrashers games. Had he signed earlier, he said, they would have wanted Heatley to get acclimated with some NHL games. Instead, he will just meet the team, and perhaps travel to the team’s two remaining road games.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Heatley was a part of history at the 2000 Draft, when he and Boston University goalie Ricky DiPietro were taken 1-2, marking the first time collegiate players were selected with the top two picks. He is one of three Badgers to be a first-round NHL Draft pick, joining Patrick Flatley (1982, New York Islanders) and David Tanabe (1999, Carolina).