As reported here about a month ago, forward Danton Heinen has given up his remaining two years of NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins after they drafted him in the fourth round in 2014.
Several sources told the Scouting Post that Heinen would not be going back school for his junior season back on March 12, citing an eagerness for him to get started on a pro career. He had reportedly told several of his teammates that he would not be back, and so it was just a matter of Boston waiting for his season to end. With the recent news of 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey declining to sign with the Nashville Predators, it’s a reasonable assumption that if Boston was entertaining the thoughts of talking Heinen into remaining an amateur for one more season, they were all about bringing Heinen into their organization immediately.
The ability for college players to choose their own destinations after four years and choices by Kevin Hayes and now Vesey to not sign with the teams that drafted them means that NHL clubs will not hesitate to bring players out of the NCAA sooner now, and if a kid is not altogether thrilled to be a part of that organization, don’t be surprised to see their advisors (read: player agents) leverage tools like burning a year off the ELC in order to get them to come out on the NHL team’s timeline. The Winnipeg Jets also signed Kyle Connor yesterday after just one year at Michigan and taking the hockey world by storm. Connor is the lightning rod that Bruins fans are using to criticize Boston’s first round choices in 2015. It looks like we’ll soon find out how much the team missed out on by passing on the USHL and NCAA’s top scorer in consecutive seasons. Connor’s signing is one more reminder that the old days of guys spending four years in school is getting increasingly rare (though the B’s duo of college defenders- Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk– did just that)
Getting back to Heinen- the 20-year-old British Columbia native had a slow offensive start to the season, but erupted over the second half, tallying about two points per game to lead the Pioneers to the Frozen Four before ultimately coming up short against the eventual 2016 champion University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (PC or not they’ll always be the Fighting Sioux to me).
In two NCAA seasons in the Rocky Mountains, Heinen tallied 36 goals and 93 points in just 81 games. Playing on the Pacific Rim line or “Pac Rim” this season from January on, Heinen simply caught fire. After being at well under a point-per-game just as the calendar switched to 2016, he teamed up with fellow left coasters Dylan Gambrell (eligible for 2016 draft) and Trevor Moore (could leave school as a free agent or return- reportedly weighing his options right now) to finish atop the Pioneers with 20 goals and 48 points, adding to his 16 goals and 45 points from a season ago.
Heinen is about 6-foot-1 and a solid 185 pounds. As a 1995-born player he was passed over in 2013 because he was small and extremely light, but he’s hit an impressive growth spurt since and dedicated himself in the weight room, adding strength and mass to his frame.
A good skater, what makes Heinen arguably Boston’s top prospect along with Zach Senyshyn for the offensive potential both possess, is that he has exceptional vision and hockey sense, to go with one sick set of mitts. He was a center in junior but has been developed as a winger in college under head coach Jim Montgomery, first playing on the left side as a freshman before shifting over to the right (his off-wing) and settling in with the Pac Rim unit. He uses his high IQ to anticipate/read/react and after hitting a lot of posts and not getting much in the way of puck luck in the early going, his talent took over as he racked up the points down the stretch. He’s heavy on the puck and has the intelligence to take on the various responsibilities required of him in Boston’s system.
Heinen is not a flashy or dynamic player who is going to wow you by exploding to top speed in a few strides and putting defenses into near-constant back pedal mode, but what he will do is slow down the play or speed it up depending on the situation. When he gets down below the circles and in between the hashmarks, he’s deadly- either hounding the puck and hitting linemates with accurate passes to set up quality chances or burying goals with a quick release and little hesitation to shoot the puck when the lane is open for him to do so.
Like many young players these days- I caution fans not to jump squarely on the hype train just yet. Heinen is good enough of a player to challenge for NHL duty right away next fall, but that doesn’t mean that the right answer is that he will play in Boston. Frank Vatrano showed that a rookie pro with the right blend of skill and want to can make it with the big club, but we have an extended offseason ahead of us. Before we start projecting what line he’ll be on, how many goals/points he’ll score and whether he should be paired with Vesey (who as of right now until Aug. 15 or unless his rights are traded between now and then is still property of the Predators), let’s take a moment to see how he looks in Providence first. He’s there this week on at ATO (amateur tryout) and his 3-year contract won’t kick in until 2016-17. Let’s see how he looks in his first taste of pro hockey, and then keep in mind that there will be some personnel changes between now and when training camp opens up in mid-September.
I know, I know- what fun is being patient when we can entertain ourselves with endless speculation and line permutations?
For now, Heinen being in the fold is an intriguing step. He’s unproven, but the potential is higher than average and he was a super find by the Boston scouts. For more on him, check out my blog post from before the season began titled “The Curious Case of Danton Heinen” and I walk you down the path of how, as a little known commodity in the BCHL that more than a few teams were quietly tracking, the Bruins appear to have struck gold.
Time will tell…and we won’t know how successful the find was for a little while yet.