Heinen Hopes For More Speed, Puck Protection As Denver Sophomore
WILMINGTON (CBS) – Even before the Bruins used the 2015 NHL Draft to add 10 more prospects, including five in the first two rounds, forward Danton Heinen had elevated the level of promise in Boston's group of players for the future.
The Bruins drafted Heinen 116th (fourth round) in 2014 after he had 62 points in 55 games in the British Columbia Hockey League. After landing at Denver last fall, Heinen erupted for 45 points in 40 games and led the NCHC in scoring. He was third among freshman nationally behind just Boston University's Jack Eichel and Michigan's Dylan Larkin.
You might remember that both Eichel (the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft) and Larkin (picked 15th in 2014) are now out of school and in the early stages of their pro careers. But Heinen is planning on at least another year of college.
Heinen, 20, used this week's Bruins development camp at Ristuccia Arena to pick up tips that'll make him a better player as a collegiate and as a pro. School commitments forced him to miss development camp last year.
"I think puck protection. They really stressed that this week about how the Bruins protect the puck well," he said after a scrimmage Friday. "So I think I've got to kind of keep working on that to make the jump. And also, my first few strides of speed, I always got to get faster. So a couple things."
That the left-shooting Heinen is a bit ahead of the curve at this point in his career is a bit of a surprise because he was behind for a while. His lack of size made Western Hockey League teams shy away from him. He didn't commit to Denver until he was already 18.
Now Heinen is listed at 6 feet, 165 pounds. But he didn't hit his growth spurt until the summer he turned 17. He wasn't worried because his father is pretty big and he figured sooner or later he'd follow dad. Those dreams came true and the Pioneers benefited last season. Suddenly the Bruins had grander plans for Heinen.
Being a standout freshman, though, is one thing. The Bruins don't want to rush Heinen and risk getting him off the right development track.
"He had a tremendous year. Where he was draft and the weight and the size and the strength as to where he is now, that's another area you have to look at," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. "That might be a player that's accelerated. But again, that's an individual family decision first and foremost as to when they think they would like to leave school. Jimmy Montgomery's not going to want to hear me say 'he's ready to come out now.' He's the coach in Denver. He wants Heinen. And rightfully so.
"It's a lot of times just staying in communication with everybody to say 'OK, we're going to make the right decision, first and foremost, for the organization, the player, and the situation he's in as to where he's going to continue to grow and develop."
Heinen still has strength to add, speed to increase and tricks of the trade to learn. After all, his old tricks will be on every team's scouting video in the upcoming season. Bruins development coach Jay Pandolfo classified Heinen's freshman season as great. But now Heinen has to prove it wasn't a fluke.
"Now sometimes sophomore year can be a little tougher," Pandolfo said. "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."
With Eichel and Larkin around, Heinen was able to fly under the radar. The soft-spoken kid from Langley, British Columbia said he was fine not getting a lot of attention. But now there's going to be more of a spotlight on him, and time may be short for him to accomplish the things he wants to do in college. One more season like his freshman year and Heinen won't be able to reject the Bruins' advances.
For now he's approaching the next season like any other.
"I just keep trying to do the same things, keep trying to get better every day and I think it will take care of itself," he said.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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