the Blue Jackets finalized a trade just before the deadline, swapping veteran winger Lauri Korpikoski for Heatherington.
“I was excited about it. I hadn’t been traded before so I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been great,” Heatherington said.
“After I got the call, I went home, packed some things up and I was on a plane the next morning.”
One night earlier, center Mark McNeill took a similar call after he was dealt by the Blackhawks to Dallas — along with a conditional fourthround pick in the 2018 NHL draft — for veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya.
“You get a call from your GM around dinner time on a Tuesday and you know something is up,” McNeill said. “So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when I actually picked up the phone.”
For both players, the trades signal a fresh start to their careers.
McNeill, 24, was a firstround pick of the Blackhawks in 2011, but he’s failed to crack the NHL team’s roster.
McNeill averaged 22 goals over the past three seasons for the Rockford IceHogs, but Chicago continually passed him over while reloading with free agents or adding veteran NHL players at the trade deadline.
Heatherington was second-round pick of Columbus in 2013 and won a Calder Cup last season with the thennamed Lake Erie Monsters. With a stockpile of young defensemen in the system and a need at forward, the Blue Jackets viewed Heatherington as expendable.
“They both add something to our team, and I think they both make us a bit more physical,” said Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal, whose club is next-to-last in the AHL’s Pacific Division and likely will fail to qualify for the postseason for the first time in five years.
“Whenever you add new players like that add at the deadline, you know you are getting motivated players, and it’s good for the rest of the group.”
McNeill already has made an impact for Texas. In seven games, he has four points and has grabbed a spot on the top line with Travis Morin and Jason Dickinson.
“It’s an easy system to play in,” McNeill said. “Plus it helps to come in and have a chance to play in key spots right away.”
Heatherington has played in six games for Texas since the trade and has been paired with Julius Honka.
Honka and Heatherington played junior hockey together with the Swift Current Broncos during the 2013-14 season, and they are trying to re-kindle some of that old chemistry.
“It helps coming in and playing with an old teammate,” Heatherington said, “plus I know a lot of the guys here from the Western (Hockey) League.”
Texas Stars center Mark McNeill was the 18th overall pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2011 draft, but he failed to make it to the NHL roster.