Danton Heinen is far from the flashiest player out on the ice.
The 28-year-old forward doesn’t inundate his O-zone shifts with an array of dekes and dangles. He’s not the player that will bring a raucous Garden crowd to its feet by way of a thunderous, bone-crunching check or spirited scrap.
He may not fit the mold of what some might envision as a prototypical player draped in a black-and-gold sweater.
But for Jim Montgomery, the most important attribute for any player is adhering to winning hockey. And Heinen has followed that script over a steady pace in 2023-24 — and at a bargain-bin price.
“What we’ve seen from him is a guy who is playing the right way,” Montgomery said of Heinen on Thursday morning. “He’s reloading well. He’s winning. We keep track of 50-50 battles. He’s someone that’s winning at a 64% level. So we’re getting the puck, he’s ending plays and we’re going the other way, or he’s keeping pucks alive in the offensive zone.
“And he’s made a lot of good offensive plays, either support plays, usually. And he’s becoming more primary as he’s trying to — we’ve encouraged him to use his shot more, and I think he’s done that here in the last five games.”
Heinen’s second stint with Boston has been far from seamless. After an underwhelming 2022-23 campaign with the Penguins, Heinen didn’t receive a phone call from any team during free agency.
Boston eventually handed Heinen a professional tryout (PTO) contract in early September, more than two weeks after doling out a similar tryout deal to fellow veteran Alex Chiasson.
It wasn’t until Oct. 30 that the Bruins finally put pen to paper on a one-year, $775,000 contract for Heinen, with the skater stuck in limbo without a deal through the first eight games of the season.
But since joining Boston’s lineup, Heinen has established himself as a plus player in Montgomery’s revamped forward grouping.
With his second-period tally against the Sharks during Thursday’s 3-0 win, Heinen is now up six points (three goals, three assists) in his last eight games.
Even though seven points (all at even-strength) through 14 total games may not exactly jump off the page, it’s great value for a player accounting for less than $1 million against the cap.
For reference, Tyler Bertuzzi has only posted nine points (seven at even strength) over 21 games with the Maple Leafs … with a $5.5 million cap hit.
Of course, that’s not to say that Heinen is a far superior player than Bertuzzi, who has held court as a top-six stalwart for years with Detroit and his brief stint with the Bruins.
But with Don Sweeney and the Bruins mired in a cap crunch this past offseason, Boston has found more than appropriate value off of short-term signings such as Heinen and James van Riemsdyk — with the duo combining for 22 total points this year over a combined cap hit of $1.775 million.
“He’s definitely much more mature and much stronger,” Brad Marchand said of Heinen’s play in his second go-around with Boston. “He handles pace a lot better now, which comes with maturity and age and experience. Sometimes you just need a little extra time to get used to the pace and everything. He’s found that, and now he’s thriving out there.”
Heinen’s solid play as of late prompted Montgomery to slot him into a top-six role during Boston’s latest lineup reshuffle, with the forward skating with Brad Marchand and Matt Poitras on Thursday.
He may not be a fixture in that spot as the season moves forward, but Heinen has been far from a net negative in whatever role he’s been deployed in.
The Bruins are still outscoring opponents, 8-4, during Heinen’s 163:58 of 5v5 ice time this season, with the forward also fifth on the team in 5v5 points per 60 minutes (2.20).
Even if this scoring stretch ends up being unsustainable, his versatility and steady two-way play gives Montgomery a useful asset capable of slotting up and down the lineup as he sees fit.
“Very good, responsible player all over the ice,” Marchand added of Heinen’s skillset. “It always seems like the puck is around him. Really sneaky good two-way player. Really strong defensive stick and very smart with the puck. He’s got incredible IQ with the puck and hockey IQ away from it. So, he’s been a huge addition to our group. It’s fun to see him do well.”
The year-end highlight reel composed by the 2023-24 Bruins may not feature plenty of panache from an understated contributor like Heinen. But based on what we’ve seen so far, the forward is developing a knack for leaving his fingerprints all over his team’s winning efforts out on the ice.
And for a $775,000 price tag? The Bruins will certainly take that.
“Danton Heinen’s a real good hockey player, and he’s playing real good hockey for us,” Montgomery said. “He’s making plays all over the ice. He’s making those around him better.”
Conor Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.