Heinen sends powerful reminder that he's a top Bruins prospect


Heinen sends powerful reminder that he's a top Bruins prospect

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.

Haggerty: Feels like the B's could use an offensive spark plug like Donato

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Haggerty: Feels like the B's could use an offensive spark plug like Donato

BRIGHTON, Mass – The one thing that we’ve seen play out in the three losses to the Maple Leafs in their best-of-seven series is a lack of offensive finish on the chances that they’re getting against the Toronto defense. Boston has launched 162 shot attempts in the last two losses to the Maple Leafs both home and on the road, and they’ve managed to score just four goals despite clearly holding the advantage in terms of puck possession, chances and vulcanized rubber tossed at the opposing net.

Most concerning of all, the Bruins top line players in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak all looked visibly frustrated by the third period of Monday night’s Game 6 loss, and really look like they’re beginning to be at a loss at how to beat Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. It still remains to be seen if Andersen is going to be able to continue the hot goaltender act in a winner-take-all Game 7 situation, or if that the frustration for Boston’s elite players will spill over into an elimination game for both teams. 

But one thing that should be strongly considered given all those recent factors would be inserting 21-year-old Ryan Donato into the lineup for the Bruins. Donato had five goals and nine points in 12 games for the Bruins at the end of the season after signing out of Harvard University and was excellent on the power play while working with the top unit during Rick Nash’s injury absence in those final weeks. Now the secondary scoring has essentially dried up for the B’s behind their top line, the weight of the entire offense has begun to burden the top line and the Bruins power play is 1-for-9 in their last four games after bounding out of the gate red hot to start the series. 

Donato has the natural goal-scoring ability, the shot and release and the good hockey IQ to create offense in pretty rapid fashion, and has always been a possibility for the Black and Gold if the offense got a little too static during the postseason. Donato played in one game where he had a couple of shots and some decent time working things out in the offensive zone, but he also showed he’s got some things to learn in terms of board battles and defensive zone work.

There’s also the fact the Bruins seem much more comfortable with Donato at left wing than they do with him manning his off-wing on the right side. 

That’s the dilemma for Bruce Cassidy when it comes to mulling an insertion of Donato into the lineup to act as an offensive jumper cable of sorts. Clearly, they’ve mulled it over and given the idea it’s due diligence in discussions, but it doesn’t sound like the Bruins are going to drop the youngster into Wednesday night’s Game 7 scenario. 

“We’ve considered [playing Donato] certainly,” said Cassidy. “He played a game early [in the series] and he was okay. He wasn’t bad and he wasn’t great. He was somewhere in between. Nothing is set in stone as far as [Game 7] goes. There is something to be said for going with the players that have got you this far, and Danton Heinen is one of those players. 

“Danton has played right wing, and that’s where Donato in our minds is really strictly a left winger. That’s where the juggling would come in if we were going to use Ryan. It was Wingels last night with good playoff experience on the road, and I thought he did a good job. Ryan is in consideration, but we’re going to try and play the best 12 forwards and see how they fit to win a hockey game [on Wednesday]. 

This humble hockey writer’s view: It probably would have been a better idea to give Donato at right wing a shot in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre rather than trying to pass Tommy Wingels off as a second line winger. If the move didn’t work out in Boston’s favor then at least there was still Game 7 to fall back on, but that’s in the rearview mirror. Cassidy needs to decide between going with the tried and true formula of what got the Bruins to this point in the first place while showing unshakable faith, or mixing things up in a tacit acknowledgment that something needs to change after Boston’s two losses in a row in the series headed into Game 7. 

It’s not an easy choice and so much of winning a Game 7 situation is avoiding the kind of rookie mistakes that Donato could easily fall victim to if he was in the lineup for Boston, but it also feels a little tight and a tad conservative for Cassidy to decide that the super-talented young Donato doesn’t have enough upside to push into the lineup. 

It might just come down to this: If you have a choice of which Bruin should have the puck in a key scoring chance during the game, would be it Tommy Wingels, Danton Heinen or Ryan Donato. All due respect to both Wingels and Heinen, but it’s the electric Donato amid some healthy offensive totals he had no trouble scoring when given regular playing time in March and April.


A return for Heinen looks like only Game 7 lineup change

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A return for Heinen looks like only Game 7 lineup change

BRIGHTON, Mass – It remains an unfinished product until the Bruins take the ice for warm-ups on Wednesday night ahead of Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it looked like Bruce Cassidy would again be tinkering with the Black and Gold lineup. It looked like Danton Heinen was going to draw back in after being a healthy scratch for Game 6, and was skating on the right wing with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk at practice. 

If that were the case then Tommy Wingels would be back out of the lineup after dressing for Game 6, and both Ryan Donato and Brian Gionta would once be out of the game night group of 12 forwards for the decisive Wednesday night game. Cassidy said there is plenty to consider, of course, but that he felt some allegiance to the players that have brought the Bruins this far over the course of the entire regular season. 

“What we decide to do tomorrow it’s not set in stone today,” said Cassidy. “But there is a certain level of trust in the players that have gotten you this far, and Danton Heinen is certainly one of those guys. You look at his numbers and maybe that line hasn’t produced a lot 5-on-5…so what can do better? 

“He’s still a good defensive player, so he’s always going to give us that. He can play up in the lineup and he’s certainly shown that he can play down with [Sean] Kuraly. Rick Nash can certainly go back with Krejci, so that’s another quick fix.”

Here are the line combos and D-pairings based on Tuesday’s brief practice where it appeared that everybody made it through Game 6 with their health intact ahead of Wednesday’s winner-take-all series finale: