BRIGHTON, Mass – Pretty much all of the Calder Trophy hype for the Bruins this season has been centered on 20-year-old defenseman prodigy Charlie McAvoy. Rightfully so, given his dominant first three months in Black and Gold as a workhorse, top-pairing D-man who can pretty much do everything on the ice.
Still, quietly and productively, there’s another Bruins rookie playing his way into the Calder picture with his increasingly impressive play: Danton Heinen, 22, the rookie winger who finished December tied for second behind Brad Marchand on the B’s in scoring with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 14 games. He’s thoroughly cemented his place on a red-hot third line with David Backes and Riley Nash.
- Give a shout to the Bruins fourth line
- B's-Panthers postponed by snowstorm, no makeup date set
- HAGGERTY: Backes finally looking like the guy B's paid big bucks
It’s been his heady play, willingness to battle for pucks each and every shift and the clear offensive skill finally coming out of his game that has seen him flourish this season after not looking NHL-ready in eight scoreless games in Boston last season.
“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,” said Heinen, who really found his groove down the stretch with the Providence Bruins late last season. “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.”
Case in point: It was the heightened confidence and growing NHL poise that saw Heinen finish off an offensive zone face-off play for Boston’s first goal in their road win over the Islanders on Tuesday night. The ability to translate his hockey IQ and hands/shot into NHL production has added plenty to Heinen’s game after flying under the radar a bit in training camp with most of the attention paid to incoming rookies Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork.
Clearly, the former Denver University standout isn’t under the radar anymore.
Instead, it’s Heinen who's racking up the points for the Bruins with 10 goals and 28 points in 34 games, and it’s Bjork who's now in Providence after getting assigned there on Wednesday afternoon. While Heinen may play on the wing, there's an element of Patrice Bergeron in his game when it comes to decision-making, refusing to give up on pucks and the subtle intelligence he brings to a 200-foot game.
“I think he’s making a few more of those riskier plays that work out…that he might not have tried as a younger player that lacks confidence. So I think it’s partly confidence and it’s partly that he’s settled into a spot here,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I don’t think it’s necessarily high-risk as much as it’s playing through people like he might not have in the past. Most of them have worked out well because he’s done a good job.
“The biggest thing for me is that he’s won more pucks than he did last year. A year later and I just think it’s just comfort level. Young guys have their ups and downs, but he’s got the right guys on his line to help him through that if he’s having a bad day. But those are few and far between. He’s been really good.”
To put it in perspective for Heinen, only clear-cut Calder Trophy candidates Brock Boeser, Mat Barzal and Clayton Keller have more points than the Bruins winger among NHL rookies and Heinen has played a handful fewer games this season. Heinen will need to keep it up for the entirety of the season and continue to show the 200-foot, two-way game that has quickly earned the trust of the B’s coaching staff.
Still, it sure looks like the Bruins could have two legit Calder Trophy candidates on their hands this season, and that hasn’t happened for the Black and Gold since the 2003-04 season when Calder winner Andrew Raycroft and Patrice Bergeron (eighth in voting) finished in the top 10 for the NHL's rookie of the year award.