Danton Heinen

Nash looking to bring a little more to the table with Bruins

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Nash looking to bring a little more to the table with Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – Riley Nash has carved out a niche for himself as a reliable bottom-6 forward at the NHL. He plays the 200-foot game, is versatile enough to play all of the positions up front and puts up enough offense to realistically hold onto a spot as a mainstay on the third or fourth line for most NHL teams.

But the 28-year-old Nash is also a first-round pick, so there are always those flashes of offensive skill that hint at a little more under the surface. It’s never really manifested into anything consistent at the NHL level with his best season producing 10 goals and 24 points for the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2013-14. But even last season Nash really came on strong in the second half of the year and scored two goals in a huge road win over the New York Islanders, and now he finds himself centering a third line with a couple of offensive wingers in Danton Heinen and David Backes.

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Nash finished with a couple of assists in the Thursday night win over the Coyotes along with a game-high six shots on net and a plus-3 rating, and is on pace for six goals and a career-best 35 points. Nash hopes it’s the beginning of a hot stretch offensively for him and a line that’s looked good since they were put together, and there’s no doubting that the potential is there.

“I’d love to score more. It’s not like I’m not trying to score,” said Nash, with a good-natured laugh. “I think the opportunity when it presents itself, I need to be more assertive about getting pucks to the net. When there’s not a great chance, throw it there and hope that something good will happen. A lot of the top it’s off the pads with a guy going to the net, and it creates those second and third opportunities with zone time and everything else.”

Nash has a goal and five points with 13 shots on net in his last five games, and it looks like he’s in the middle of a productive stretch offensively. That being said, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is always looking to coax a little bit more out of a player that flashes high end shooting skills, hands and skating ability when he’s at his most confident.

“We hoped we’d get more pop out of him, and we’re starting to see some of it. The challenge we put in front of Riley is if he wanted to be pigeon-holed as a fourth line center, or do you want to grow into a third line center if you can show more offense?” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think he wants to do it, and we’re starting to see a little more of it. Sometimes it’s opportunity and sometimes it’s playing with the right guys, the right mix. Sometimes it’s about encouraging him to get out of that defensive mindset sometimes when he’s on the ice.

“Be mindful of what you want to do with the puck on offense, and he knows what to do defensively to be successful. Maybe we’re just going through a stretch where the puck is finding him more, and I do believe that does happen. He’s willing to be hard [on the puck] and take his chances, and if it doesn’t work out then he has trust in his linemates [to cover for him defensively].”

It’s up to Nash whether this is merely a hot offensive stretch or an uptick offensively in his second season with the Bruins, but his defense, versatility and reliability will always guarantee he’ll keep good looks from the Black and Gold. 

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Marchand on Heinen: 'He's put the work in and now he's getting rewarded'

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Marchand on Heinen: 'He's put the work in and now he's getting rewarded'

BRIGHTON, Mass – With each passing day, it’s clear that winger Danton Heinen is becoming more and more a part of the fabric on the Boston Bruins. 

The 22-year-old scored his fifth goal of the season in Thursday night’s 6-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes, and teamed with David Backes and Riley Nash for Boston’s most effective forward line throughout the win. That’s a big deal both for the Black and Gold, who need a stronger, more productive third line that can consistently chip in offense, and for Heinen, who continues to get endorsements from the B’s coaching staff that are growing in strength about an established role with the NHL club. 

“Danton has played through a lot of different scenarios playing with different lines, and playing for different players…and he’s been a real good addition for us in terms of being able to move him around,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I like what he’s brought, and he’s earned his time and he’s earned his spot in the lineup. As a young guy that could change if we feel like he needs to sit for a bit or be re-assigned, but that’s all speculation. Clearly right he deserves to play, and so he’s playing.

“[Roster discussions] are talked about internally, but I can’t see Danton Heinen being sent down. He’s playing very well for us. He deserves to be in the lineup.”

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Nobody is giving Heinen a guarantee that he’s in Boston for good, of course, but it’s pretty clear he’s earned a permanent spot with the Bruins barring some kind of crazy, unexpected downturn to a game that’s been impressive to just about everybody this season. A year ago at this time, Heinen was in Providence working on his game after looking in over his head in eight NHL games with the Bruins mostly toward the beginning of the season.  

This season Heinen has been more assertive with his decisions on the ice, harder on the puck while competing in battle areas on every shift and he’s even moving around a little more quickly than he did last season. In other words, he looks like he belongs in the league while on pace for 18 goals and 50 points for the Black and Gold. 

“He is [an NHL player]. No question. He plays a hard game, he’s heavy and strong on the puck and very skilled,” said Brad Marchand. “He’s pretty consistent and he’s been battling every night. Even that goal [against the Coyotes] he was going to the net, keeping it simple and doing his job. So you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, he’s put the work in and he’s getting rewarded for it.”

For his part, Heinen chalks up quite a bit of his improvement to an upshot in confidence that started in the Calder Cup playoffs last season. He was a point-per-game player for the P-Bruins in their playoff run, and he was no longer the timid rookie in training camp while looking to lock down a job. Now Heinen feels like he belongs in the league after tasting some individual success at the NHL level, and is taking his cues with things like confidence, approach and preparation by watching veterans like Marchand and Patrice Bergeron go about their business in all situations. 

That’s a big time added bonus of being given the time to find your game at the NHL level, which Heinen most certainly was afforded after injuries ravaged the Bruins up front. 

“I can’t change my mindset at all. Every day I need to prove myself and show that I can help the team on a consistent basis,” said Heinen. “It’s an adjustment going to college where you think you’re ready hard on pucks and winning battles, and then you come here and you have to be so much harder on pucks, and so much stronger. For me that took a little bit of time [to adjust], but I keep on working on it. 

“As you’re here longer you get more comfortable with the guys, and you’re not stressing every day when you go to the rink. You become more yourself and try more things on the ice. You wish you could show that [confidence] all the time, but then you watch guys like Marchand and Bergeron, and they just know they’re always going to be the best players on the ice. You try to see what they do, and kind of try to adopt some of the ways that they act.”

That has worked for Heinen even as he was bounced up and down the forward lines with the Bruins due to wide-ranging injuries, and switched around with different linemates in the last few weeks. He’s shown the skill that made him a top prospect coming out of the University of Denver, and he’s shown the tenacity to play a 200-foot game with the B’s sorely in need of those types of players. 

It remains to be seen where Heinen’s ultimate ceiling lies when it comes to potential and production, but he’s going to get the chance to see how good he can be now that he’s in an established third line spot with Bruins’ mainstay forwards in Backes and Nash alongside him with some solid early game effectiveness. 

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Talking Points: Backes leads the way, Bruins annihilate Coyotes

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Talking Points: Backes leads the way, Bruins annihilate Coyotes

GOLD STAR: David Backes had his most impressive game in quite some time with a big offensive outburst in the second period when he scored his first two goals of the season. On the first goal Backes beat out a couple of Arizona defenders in front of the net to tip home a Riley Nash bid from the outside, and on the second goal Backes stripped Alex Goligoski of the puck on the fore-check and then snapped a shot past goalie Kyle Wedgewood. In all, Backes finished with two goals, a plus-3 rating, four shots on net, and four takeaways in 17:23 of ice time. It was clear very early on that Backes is playing at 100% and his energy is back. His efforts helped the team overpower the Coyotes in the second period.

BLACK EYE: Clayton Keller came into this matchup as the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy, but he has cooled off tremendously after a torrid start to the season. Keller has now gone 16 games without a goal, and finished Wednesday night’s game with a minus-2 rating and just a single shot on net in 15:01 of ice time. He was a complete non-factor in the game, and it looks like the physical pounding of the NHL grind is beginning to wear on the small forward. This is why I said that people need to hold their horses for a bit before crowing the former BU standout as the rookie of the year just a month into the season. Keller is also now a minus-19 for the season. The last time I checked that is not every good.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were pretty mediocre for about 30 minutes after scoring just 15 seconds into the game, but the third line of Danton Heinen, Riley Nash and David Backes sparked the B’s with a pair of goals in the second half of the second period. That kick-started a final 30 minutes to the game where the Bruins built a lead against a Coyotes team without fight. The Black and Gold started to blow the doors off of Arizona in the second period behind two goals scored by David Backes.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Krejci had one of his better games since returning from injury, and finished with a goal and two points in 15:40 of ice time. His power play goal during 5-on-3 play in the third period was a thing of beauty. Krejci also won 11-of-16 faceoffs, while beginning to redevelop some chemistry with Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork throughout the game.  The final give-and-go with Bjork at the end of the third period showed off the same early season chemistry that Krejci had with the two young wingers. That should give the three forwards some encouragement to keep building foward as a healthy B’s roster finally forms an identity.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 – the game-high number of shots on net for Riley Nash. He racked up a pair of assists, and six points in his last six games while picking up his offensive pace.   

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We show it in spurts. You know if we can consistently put that together game after game then we will be a good team and be tough to play against every night." –Brad Marchand, who likes what he sees as the Bruins get hot and win seven of their last nine.

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