The Rink Blog over at the New England Hockey Journal website is gone, but here is an article I wrote for it on Danton Heinen last March after I had a chance to talk to him during the NCHC playoffs.
It’s some bonus reading for a guy who should be ranked solidly inside the top-10 of Bruins prospect lists in my view because he does so many things well.
Here’s the story:
When the Boston Bruins called forward Danton Heinen’s name late in the fourth round of last June’s NHL Entry Draft, fans and prognosticators were sent scrambling for their guides and cheat sheets, to little avail.
There wasn’t a whole lot of information available on the previously passed over forward when the B’s nabbed the 2014 NHL lottery’s mystery man 116th overall. However, in the months since, the former captain of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles has emerged as one of the best players in the NCAA with a productive and mature game that belies his relative inexperience in the NCHC.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Heinen said before the second-seeded Denver University’s sweep of University of Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. “I don’t know that I expected to have this level of personal success coming into my first year (at DU) but being part of a winning team is what I’m most happy about.”
Currently second only to hockey prodigy Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) in scoring among first year NCAA players, Heinen adjusted immediately to the competition at Denver and never looked back, posting 16 goals and 44 points in 36 games as of March 15, pacing the Pioneers in scoring. Denver head coach (and former University of Maine scoring star and member of 1993 national championship squad) Jim Montgomery is on the record giving much of the credit for Heinen to assistant David Carle, who recognized the potential and acted quickly to bring him into the fold last year.
“It was Coach Carle who did the most to bring me here,” said Heinen. “He came out to see me play (at Surrey) last year and made the team’s interest in me known. They brought me to Denver for a visit and everything clicked right away; I loved it. For me, the decision to commit was a no-brainer, so I came out last summer to do course and conditioning work to get ready for the season and the opportunity to play here right away.”
Heinen’s arrival on the collegiate stage has been so sudden, yet so jarring for certain NHL teams that completely missed the boat on him that the 19-year-old’s season has made for some interesting backroom conversations.
“Our college guys are so impressed with him,” said one NHL scout who told New England Hockey Journal that Heinen has been a topic of conversation recently. “The recurring theme is that he’s played so well for Denver, and we’re trying to figure out how he got so good, so fast given that not many were on him a year ago when he was in junior.”
Some evaluators point to a sudden growth spurt after he turned 18 as one aspect of the 6-foot, 180-pound Langley, B.C. native’s impressive showing at this level. As a July, 1995-born prospect who had been eligible for the 2013 NHL draft, and despite other ’95 players being in a similar situation such as Buffalo fifth-round draft choice and Brown freshman Max Willman (Barnstable, Mass.), Heinen got nary a sniff from the various hockey draft publications.
Even if the public lists weren’t tracking him, Heinen says he interviewed with multiple teams including Boston, during the course of the 2013-14 hockey season. Even though he knew he had some NHL interest, he wasn’t altogether positive he would get a call. He was following the draft on his computer at home, but when the fourth round rolled around, he wasn’t tracking the selections all that closely. Heinen learned of his selection from his family advisor via a phone call.
Although not a blazing skater with game-breaking open ice speed, Heinen displays NHL-caliber quickness and smarts, tenacity around the puck. He is on track to develop into a well-rounded , three-zone player with top-six forward potential in Boston. At the very least, he looks like a future third-line fixture on the wing if he continues his upward trajectory and willingness to compete hard in the greasy areas of the ice.“I see myself as more of a playmaker,” Heinen said. “I can see the ice and set up guys for more scoring opportunities.”
Heinen’s rapid arrival in the NCAA and the potential that more and more around the NHL are acknowledging are why it is all the more baffling that so many seemed to completely miss on his potential a year ago. The Bruins, for their part, played it smart. Western Canada scout (and former B’s defender) Dean Malkoc watched him enough to get a solid perspective on the youngster’s potential, and then as is often the case with Boston, multiple scouts and members of the front office, including current assistant GM Scott Bradley (who makes his off-season home in British Columbia), went out West to see him.
“We had a couple of guys in the west that sat on Danton pretty hard,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said in December. “We were real glad to get him where we did. We’re excited that he made it to school this year after there was talk he might delay it one more season, and clearly- he can handle the college game.”
Unlike other teams who were perhaps on Heinen for a little longer than the B’s were, give GM Peter Chiarelli and his staff credit for taking him where they wanted to instead of playing the we can wait and get him later game that may have burned other suitors (Montreal rumored to be chief among them) and cost them a shot at one of college hockey’s hottest properties.
“He’s an ‘A’ prospect in my view,” said another NHL scout outside of the Boston organization. “Our guys are saying that if Heinen was an undrafted free agent, he’d have 30 offers lined up as soon as he was ready to turn pro because of how promising and complete a player he is. His hockey IQ and vision are outstanding. He just finds ways to make plays whenever he’s out there. He shows an intelligence and refined game that’s rare for someone in their first season of college hockey.”
It stands to reason, then, that at the recently concluded NHL trade deadline, the B’s reportedly had several teams asking them about the prized fourth-round pick. Given what he’s shown, don’t expect the team to give up on this prized asset unless any prospective team is willing to pay a significant return.
All of the high praise aside, Heinen knows that there is still much work to be done. As has been the case for the entire season, he put words to action by scoring goals in both of DU’s playoff wins over UMD, extending his team scoring lead.
The last player Montgomery coached who topped the charts as a rookie was none other than Calgary’s NHL Rookie of the Year candidate Johnny Gaudreau, who did it with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2010-11. While Heinen has a long way to go before he will generate the kind of buzz that followed “Johnny Hockey” during his electric Hobey Baker-winning career at Boston College, he’s far exceeded the modest expectations that preceded his arrival in the Rocky Mountains.
“He’s gained 10 pounds and is a cerebral kid on the ice, a hard-worker off the ice,” Sweeney said. “Not enough good things can be said about how much he’s grown under (Montgomery) and he’ll continue to put up points in that system. He’s still an open canvas in terms of how much bigger and stronger he’s going to get, but we’re pleased at the progress he’s making.”