Bruins

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

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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.

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Sean Kuraly.

Kuraly represents a Bruins prospect turned legit player after the fourth line center graduated from the P-Bruins and turned into a solid, strong two-way pivot on a B’s energy line that was actually pretty good for most of the season. There may be a limit to the offensive upside for a rugged, penalty-killing player like Kuraly, but there was more than enough good there for him to earn  new three-year contact with the Black and Gold that will begin this upcoming season.

What Happened Last Year: The 25-year-old Kuraly was the B’s fourth line center from beginning to end last season after really popping in the previous season’s playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he performed up to hopes and expectations. Kuraly finished with six goals and 14 points in 78 games for the Bruins, and was a big-bodied center willing to throw his body around on occasion and kill penalties pretty much all the time. Kuraly also had his moments during the playoffs with a couple of goals and four points in 12 games, but the entire B’s fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by Tampa Bay in the second round of the postseason. So there are definitely a few things for Kuraly to build/improve on from last season, and now he’ll have the time to do it with the B’s.

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Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest Q for Kuraly is just how high the upside is for the 25-year-old former Miami University standout. Kuraly showed last season that he could be a pretty solid fourth line center that could bang bodies a bit, provide occasional offense, kill penalties and win a few big face-offs while bringing size and strength down the middle. Now Kuraly will be in the mix for the vacant third line center position, and he could win it outright if he can show a little bit more offense and physical aggression as he matures into an NHL career. Is last season the ceiling for Kuraly, or can he harness the impact game we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs to make him an even more impact NHL center. The good thing about Kuraly is that he’s smart, he’s a good teammate and he plays hard all of the time, so the Bruins aren’t going to have worry about any of those things as anything but automatic with the young center.

In Their Words: “I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it. It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there are nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.” –Sean Kuraly, on what he learned from his rookie season and how he can apply it to this upcoming season and beyond.

Overall Outlook: The Bruins certainly liked what they saw out of Kuraly last season as a rookie, or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect that the big-bodied pivot is going to improve from the six goals and 14 points posted in his rookie NHL season, and it’s now up to Kuraly to see how good he can be. Could he be a steady third line center at the NHL level where he teams with David Backes to form a physical, grinding third line that can pound other teams? Can he supply enough offense to be a legit third line center, or is the offense the kind of thing that’s going to likely relegate him to fourth line duty. As mentioned above, the intangibles are never going to be in question with Kuraly and that’s a very good place to start. Now it’s just a matter of letting Kuraly develop at the NHL level, and see what he ultimately turns into after showing he’s got the right stuff for the B’s energy line at the very least.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Chris Wagner.

One of the offseason aims for the Boston Bruins was bringing a little more experience and a little more physical thump to their fourth line, and the Bruins did that by signing Chris Wagner to a two-year contract on the opening day of free agency. The addition of Wagner adds a hard-hitting, versatile element to the bottom-six up front for the Bruins, and also gives the Bruins yet another local success story as a Walpole, Mass., native coming home to play for his hometown team. The fact that Wagner plays with the blue collar, physical style favored by Bruins fans will make it all the better for him in his home state.   

What Happened Last Year: The 27-year-old Wagner had a strong season with the Anaheim Ducks/New York Islanders going into free agency with seven goals and 16 points in 79 games while finishing among the NHL’s top-5 in registered hits. It was the most games that Wagner has ever played in the NHL and the most production he’s ever posted as well. Based on his track record and how hard he plays the game, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for Wagner to at least play at least season’s level for the next few seasons while under contract with Boston. 

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The big question for the rugged, high-energy Wagner is where the ceiling will be for him over the next few seasons after cementing himself as an NHL player last season. Is he going to be good for something in the neighborhood of five goals/15 points as a third/fourth line forward, or can Wagner hit double-digit goals once he settles into with a role and linemates for the Black and Gold. The other part of that question is whether Wagner can continue with the desperation and maximum energy output that he played with for Anaheim/New York last season. Will the security of a multi-year deal in Boston allow Wagner to relax a little bit and potentially not play with the kind of fire required to hit, play physical and get in the other team’s face? Only time will tell on this one, but it’s tough to get against a player like Wagner that’s had to scrap for everything he’s got.  

In Their Words: “I just wanted to find the best situation, obviously. It seemed that they had success recently and definitely had a chance to make a run for the Stanley Cup. That was huge for me. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the character of the guys in the room with the Bruins. I’ve always wanted to play here and be close to home and be close to my family. My parent, my grandparents, and my brother and all that so it’s just a win-win and a dream come true.” –Chris Wagner, on the process behind signing with his hometown Bruins on the July 1 open of free agency. 

Overall Outlook: The Bruins let Tim Schaller walk away in free agency, so they had to go after another physical, energy player for their fourth line. They found that in Wagner for a similar level of pay at $1.25 million per season, and are once again betting on the player to come into his own during his time with the Black and Gold. It’s a bonus that he’s a local kid just like Schaller, and the hope is that he’ll have the same level of success on and off the ice that Schaller did before parlaying it into a contract with the Vancouver Canucks. If Wagner plays the same way he did last season with Anaheim and New York, both the player and the team should be happy with the level of performance over the next couple of seasons. Bruins fans love players that are willing to take the body and work hard, and that is Chris Wagner several times over.

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