BOSTON – Through very little fault of his own, Danton Heinen had fallen under the radar to start this season with heralded rookie forwards Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk getting most of the starry-eyed attention.
Heinen was in much the same position as Bjork and DeBrusk a year ago, but showed he wasn’t quite ready for prime time when he went scoreless in eight games after making the NHL club shortly after the conclusion of training camp. So perhaps some of the shine was off the 22-year-old coming into this season as Bjork and DeBrusk earned top-6 winger roles in training camp, and have already flashed some of their offensive potential in the first few weeks of the season.
Credit Heinen for sticking with it and finally busting out for a two-goal game in the Bruins 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at TD Garden, and showing he still rates highly on an impressive Bruins prospect list. The two scores were the first two goals of Heinen’s NHL career, and give him two goals and five points in four games this season after the former University of Denver standout had a strong road trip out West before getting sent back to the AHL.
For him it was about showing the Bruins brass that he doesn’t want to go back to the minor league, and that he can adapt to whatever role he’s needed for in Boston. Mission accomplished thus far this season in two different stints with the Black and Gold.
“I feel like I’m an offensive guy. I want to contribute. You see everyone scoring their first and you want to get your first as well. It felt like it was never coming, but I’m glad I got it out of the way,” said Heinen, who posted 14 goals and 44 points in 64 games for the P-Bruins before becoming a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring. “Every shift you just want to do everything you can. You don’t know how long you have up here, so you have to take it day-by-day and try to put your best foot forward every day and work as hard as you can. That’s just what I’m trying to do.”
Amazingly, Heinen did all of his damage in just 8:39 of ice time as Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy rode many of his veteran horses in the middle of a very slow stretch in the NHL schedule. On his first goal Heinen got a shot on the Bruins penalty kill, and turned that into a transition play with David Backes where he crashed the net and popped home the rebound of a Backes tester from inside the blue line.
The Sharks scored in the second period to tie things up, but it was Heinen with another response just three minutes later after he was teamed up with Tim Schaller and Frank Vatrano in a young bottom-6 combination. Brandon Carlo fired a puck off the end boards that took a wild carom, and it was Heinen again crashing the net and stuffing a shot inside the post before Martin Jones had a chance to cover the post.
That was it for the scoring for both teams, so Heinen ended up powering the offense and providing the Bruins with a game-winning goal in the second period. Given that Heinen showed up in a big way while killing penalties and playing in a bottom-6 role, it was a big deal for the Bruins given the way other bottom-6 usual suspects like Frank Vatrano, Sean Kuraly and Matt Beleskey have struggled offensively to start this season.
Heinen is showing the coaching staff a little something, and that is going to lead to more chances to push his way back into the Bruins top prospect echelon once again.
“There are a lot of different guys that could move up [in the forward lineup]. To answer your question, he could, but we’re not displeased with the other wingers. It’s just nice to know that maybe he can move up and give us some quality minutes,” said Cassidy of Heinen, who now has 3 goals and 13 points in nine games between Boston and Providence this season. “It’s more in the defensive role with Danton – to be able to kill penalties and to trust him on the wall to get pucks out, to play the right way. That’s a big bonus for a young guy to be able to use him in any of those situations.
“He went down [to Providence] and worked hard at his game, got some more points, played well, and was solid. He’s kind of realizing his role and he’s accepting it and it hasn’t affected his offense, obviously. He’s not seeing the power play which – some young guys come up, that’s how they get going, they think that’s the only way to get their points, and a lot of times it is a big factor in that -- but he’s embraced the penalty kill. He’s embraced playing on a different type of line – a [Tim] Schaller, [Sean] Kuraly – those types of players that are more north-south than maybe a [David] Krejci and a Pasta [David Pastrnak], their line rush and drop. That is the biggest thing that I like about him because he’s learning how to be a good pro: Accept the role you’re given, dominate in it, see if it can grow from there. That’s where we’re at with him.”
Clearly it will be work in progress to see just how far Heinen can raise his profile given the other young guys ahead of him on the Bruins pecking order on wing right now. He could be a really intriguing third or fourth line option because of his playmaking, his hockey IQ and the skill level that can explode into viable offense wherever he’s at in the lineup. But the first order of business for Heinen is carving out a role at the NHL level for a Bruins team very open to the youth movement, and Thursday night’s impressive two-goal performance was a giant step in the right direction.