The Curious Case of Danton Heinen

When the Boston Bruins drafted Surrey Eagles captain Danton Heinen out of the BCHL in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, there was a collective shrug that started in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and radiated outwards as those following and analyzing the draft sought information on the first real mystery player of that lottery.

He wasn’t anywhere to be found on the NHL’s Central Scouting lists. Nor did he appear in any of the independent lists out there to include my own Red Line Report. A 1995-born player, he had been previously passed over in 2013 and he wasn’t on any of those lists, either. As information began to trickle out, an intriguing picture of a late-blooming skill forward emerged, but it was not until he took the NCHC by storm last year that the real interest not only by fans but some of the NHL’s clubs that completely missed out on Heinen reached a crescendo.

I’m going to do the basic forensics to build a case on this rising star and scoring winger who is someone I see already near the top of Boston’s prospects depth chart with a high ceiling at the next level. Don’t sleep too long…the Heinen train is leaving the station and seats are filling up fast!

The crime: When the B’s called out Heinen’s name, I wasn’t there to hear it, as I was serving with the 1st Cavalry Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan. However, I saw the pick online and my reaction was no different from what it would have been if I was on the draft floor in Philly. In one word, it was “Who?”

To take such an unknown at 116th overall- in the final five selections of the fourth round, a player not anywhere on the pre-draft rankings, appeared to be a stretch. I was high on Soo Greyhounds forward Michael Bunting, who went one pick later to Arizona and the Rangers got value in Russian goalie Igor Shestyorkin one selection after that. Some of the guys I was projecting for Boston there a year ago who all went in the 5th round: skilled Massachusetts forwards Max Willman (Sabres) and Tyler Bird (Blue Jackets)…gritty energy guys like C.J. Franklin (Jets) or Shayne Gersich (Caps) or rugged WHL d-man Dysin Mayo (Coyotes) were all players I followed during the season and felt made sense at that spot.

Grabbing a soon-to-be 19-year-old with pretty average size on paper barely more than a point-per-game average in the BCHL led me to my next obvious question: “Why?”

Gathering evidence: The information soon began to trickle out on the Langley, BC native.

One story in the Surrey Leader related that Heinen was in Denver taking summer classes during the draft and was following the proceedings online because he had an idea that someone would call his name:

“He hadn’t refreshed the page in a few minutes so didn’t realize he had been drafted until his adviser called him with the news.

Heinen wasn’t on the final NHL draft rankings list both he and his adviser had fielded some questions from a few teams.

‘I had an idea that I might (get drafted) but it wasn’t guaranteed,’ he said.”

Some unsubstantiated rumors began floating that one of those teams the Bruins might have scooped was their hated rival up north- the Montreal Canadiens.

“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t see some of their guys around in the buildings when we were watching Danton,” one Bruins source said with a chuckle during a conversation I had with him last year about the discovery in 2014. “I’ll leave it to you to decide if that means we beat Montreal to the punch or not.”

Heinen did not attend the 2014 Boston Bruins development camp because the CBA did not permit him to miss pre-enrolled classes for the sake of attending an NHL team-sponsored event, so there was little to no firsthand knowledge of him until the 2014-15 NCAA campaign began that fall.

He wasted little time in establishing himself as an impact player right away, averaging a point per game for the DU Pioneers from start to finish. As the season went on, scouts who were concerned about his slight 6-foot frame (and though he’s listed at 165 pounds, Heinen himself insists he’s now closer to 180) and a wearing down effect put those issues aside. Heinen actually got *better* late in the year as his confidence seemed to blossom and he continued making plays all over the ice for his club to the tune of 45 points in 40 games, helping them reach the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.

Preferring charges: Heinen did not take a step back in Wilmington this past July when he suited up for his first B’s prospect camp. His mature game and slick playmaking skills were immediately evident to those in attendance and those of us who caught a bit of it online.

Matt Kalman wrote a good piece on Heinen for last month, and although he lists him at the disputed 165 pounds, here’s a key quote from the B’s prospect in that article:

“‘When I was like 16, I was pretty small. I never really got an opportunity at the WHL,’ said Heinen, who turned 20 earlier this month and is 6-foot, 165 pounds. ‘So I kind of … it was the right road for me. I was a little bit of a late bloomer. So it was just the best spot for me.’”

Bruins player development coach Jay Pandolfo was also impressed, saying:

“I don’t know if we were surprised, but when you see that, you open your eyes,” Bruins development coach Jay Pandolfo said. “You think maybe he’s closer than further away for sure. He had a great year last year.

“Now sometimes sophomore year can be a little tougher. Guys kind of know how he plays now, and it’ll be a little harder for him. So it’ll be interesting to see how he does this year. But the way he looks out there right now, I mean he’s headed in the right direction. He’s another guy that’s gotten stronger.”

Pandolfo praised Heinen’s poise with the puck, release and shot, and singled him out among the large group of prospects in the camp for making things look easy. But Pandolfo also said Heinen needs to get stronger and a little bigger.

The Bruins got Heinen because they did their homework where some other NHL teams did not.

They used their team methodology of getting multiple looks from different sets of eyes, and so if you’re out looking for one single scout to take credit for his discovery, you’ll be disappointed. Based on who is out where, you can surmise that Dean Malkoc had a major play in it and you wouldn’t be wrong, but he was the first to tell me when I texted him last year after one of Heinen’s many strong games to congratulate him that he was not the only one responsible. “Team effort” has, is and will be the mantra when it comes to the team finding talent that pans out. Same goes for those players who don’t meet expectations as well.

The indictment: Heinen has played a little center, but has mostly played split out to the left in his time at Denver University. He can play the off-wing if needed and the scouting report on him is encouraging: highly creative with superb vision and offensive instincts; slick, smooth hands and a quick stick to thread the needle or fire off accurate wristers coming down on the rush; not a blazing skater in open ice, but quick in his short-area burst and uses lateral agility to shake defenders in tight spaces; average size and strength; top-six NHL forward potential.

Yes, your honor- it appears that the Boston Bruins are guilty of draft day theft.

How much of a sentence they receive will depend on Heinen’s continued development and how he turns out, but the initial returns are highly encouraging.

 Further crime scene investigation:

You can read my own coverage on Heinen not only on this blog but also in the New England Hockey Journal:

Here’s a post-game interview at DU last season:

Heinen is 59 in this YouTube video of B’s development camp drills:

July 201ost-draft piece in Surrey Leader feature on Heinen by Matt Kalman

2 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Danton Heinen

  1. Pingback: Stamkos talks loom; Penguins sale slow; Cooke wants a contract (Puck Headlines) |

  2. Pingback: Stamkos talks loom; Penguins sale slow; Cooke wants a contract (Puck Headlines) | Jeffery Lipton - freelance writer

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