After going through a first half of the season where everything went right for Danton Heinen, the Bruins rookie is in the middle of some late season adversity with the Black and Gold.
The 23-year-old winger has one point in his last 14 games and has been a healthy scratch during that stretch as well, and the offense isn’t coming quite as easily for Heinen as it did in the first few months of the season. Some of it may be about new third line combinations with Tommy Wingels and Brian Gionta stepping in as his two linemates over the last few games, and longtime center Riley Nash instead filling in for Patrice Bergeron on the Bruins top line.
But it’s more about Heinen fighting through some tougher sledding in the second half of the season where his legs haven’t always been there, and when the intensity has elevated across the board for the first year player.
The bottom line is that Heinen is searching for his early season confidence when everything was going right, and it’s just not consistently there for him right now.
“I’ve felt alright. You don’t want to think about it, but naturally your mind goes there thinking that you haven’t had a point in a while,” said Heinen, who has watched a surging Jake DeBrusk catch him in the points department with 39 on the season that has both players still in the top-10 among NHL rookies. “It’s a lot easier mentally when the team is winning, but I take pride in helping the team offensively. When it’s not happening, you get hard on yourself and you want to help your teammates in that regard. You just keep working hard, you keep doing the little things and it will eventually work out.”
Clearly it’s not quite like the beginning of last season when Heinen was a non-factor on the ice and obviously not ready for the NHL, but he’s also said some very quiet games over the last few weeks as well. He’s registered zero shots on net in four of his last seven games, and total has only six shots on net in that stretch while still getting power play time and a regular third line shift.
Bruce Cassidy has seen flashes of a more confident Heinen during some recent games, but there have also been some games where Heinen hasn’t been strong enough, responsible enough or confident enough with the puck on his stick.
“I think Danton is the type of kid where confidence will help him more than others, so after all of the success he had early he’s probably doubting himself, or asking himself a lot of tough questions like ‘why isn’t it happening now?’ Sometimes you need to just park that and play,” said B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve tried to encourage that, but by the same token he’s also a human being that’s got a lot of free time away from the rink. That’s what happens with the young guys. You need to get them back into a good place.”
After going through the entire weekend of a home-and-home series against the Chicago Blackhawks without a shot on net, the “good place” appears to be a little elusive for Heinen.
Clearly the arrival of 39-year-old Brian Gionta has made it more of a challenge for Heinen to find his game quickly. The gritty, experienced Gionta has six points in his five games with the Bruins since signing ahead of the trade deadline, and is pushing for a spot in the lineup come playoff-time once the B’s are fully healthy again. That will be the competition playing out over the final month of the season where the Bruins will be icing their best lineup in the playoffs. That means Heinen will have to recover his first half game if he wants to ensure that he’s a part of it, and potentially shine in the postseason like he did as a prime time performer for the P-Bruins during their extended AHL playoff run last spring.