Danton Heinen out to prove he’s top-six Bruin
Danton Heinen is neither a physical presence nor a right-handed shot, two qualities the Bruins would prefer in a top-six winger. But the realities of this roster, which appears to be reliant on internal fixes, make Heinen as good a candidate to fill the hole as anyone.
“Maybe a bit,” he mused Thursday, when asked if he stated a case during last year’s stint as a right wing sidecar to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, most of those minutes coming when All-Star sniper David Pastrnak was injured in February and March.
“Playing with those guys, it’s an honor for sure. It feels good to be a guy they tried up there and to get the opportunity. To me, I didn’t take it lightly at all.”
Heinen, who avoided arbitration by signing a two-year, $5.6 million deal late Sunday, will get a few more cracks at proving himself a heavyweight player in this league. A smooth-skating, defensively responsible forward with playmaking touch, he will have to keep developing his shot and strength (6 feet 1 inch, 188 pounds) to win playoff puck battles, too often lost last season.
Speaking via conference call from his offseason home in Langley, B.C., the 24-year-old said he’s not “wrapped up” in his offensive totals, which dipped across the board last year, or his role on the club, which has seen him play nearly every wing spot across four lines.
“I see myself as an offensive guy,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s kind of what’s best for the team . . . I’ve kind of played all over, but honestly, wherever they want me. Whatever they need me to do.”
Heinen, who went from 16 goals and 31 assists as a rookie to 11 and 23 as a sophomore, shot less (114 times) and finished less (9.6 shooting percentage) than in year one (135 and 11.9). The Bruins still have reason to be encouraged that Heinen, if he keeps developing, could be a fit on the top unit.
Last year, he played nearly 198 minutes at 5-on-5 on the right side of Marchand and Bergeron, the line scoring 11 goals and surrendering four. They had 53.8 percent of scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
While Pastrnak (career-high 38 goals) is a much more dynamic offensive talent, and the line’s highlight-reel flashes saw them hailed as one of the league’s best, they weren’t flawless. In just over 462 minutes, they had 56.3 percent of the chances, and outscored opponents by a slim margin (28-24). In theory, dropping Pastrnak to the No. 2 unit, with Czech mate David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, could provide the scoring balance needed to replicate the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Final run.
In the postseason, coach Bruce Cassidy toyed with DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak, who had a 3-1 goals edge, controlled 62.2 percent of the shot share and 64.1 percent of the chances in their brief time in the regular season (57 minutes together). In 74 postseason minutes, they played opponents to a draw, and using expected goals percentage (a metric that takes into account quality of scoring chances for and against), they were slightly underwater (49.83).
Heinen will be in the mix again, as will Karson Kuhlman. As a rookie, the hard-charging Kuhlman showed well with Krejci and DeBrusk (3-1 goal differential, 58.26 shot share, 63.01 expected goals, 49.09 scoring chances) in more than 58 minutes of postseason time together.
“Going forward, to me it always depends, OK, what are the options,” Cassidy said after the season. “Who’s going to go there and make us the best team? At times, Danton Heinen did a good job. I felt at the end of the day could he sustain it every night? Wasn’t convinced. Not saying he could or couldn’t, but that was my decision to put Pasta back there.”
Heinen, who scored twice with six assists in 24 playoff games, would like to force his coach’s hand.
“Definitely always want to score more goals,” he said. There’s nothing better than scoring. I’ve always kind of worked on my shot in the summertime and continue to work on it.
“I think I also need to get in a mindset where I’m shooting more and more confident in my shot. Different opportunities you might pass up. I believe in my shot, and I believe I can score.”