As far as NHL Draft narratives go, Blake Heinrich's is pretty boring. There were no big swings in his ranking by NHL Central Scouting. He started the year as a 'B' ranked player, was ranked 72nd at the mid-term, and ended the year at 81st in the final ranking. He plays a quiet, steady, defensive style that doesn't draw a lot of attention. He isn't unnaturally big. But don't confuse a lack of pre-draft hype for a lack of talent.
Heinrich is originally from Cambridge, Minnesota, on the far, far northern outskirts of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro-area, but moved 50 miles south to attend Hill-Murray, a private high school in suburban St. Paul that is known as a hockey powerhouse.Coming up through the youth ranks, Heinrich was consistently rated among the top defensemen in the state of Minnesota for his birth year, in what was, and is, regarded as a very talented, deep group of players. But at the same time, he never quite drew the same level of attention as some other players in that group.
His coming out party, so to speak, was the 2012 Minnesota State High School Tournament, where Heinrich, who came into the season as the only defenseman on his Hill-Murray team with any varsity hockey experience, helped carry his team to the state championship final with a masterful defensive performance. Over the summer, he made a commitment to play his college hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and decided to forgo his senior year at Hill-Murray to play his draft year with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.
Overall, the year in Sioux City was a success for Heinrich, despite a sub.-500 season for the Muskies. Heinrich was one of three first-year draft eligible players selected to play defense for the US World Junior A Challenge team that took home a gold medal this past November. He was also named to the USHL's Top Prospects game. He's not an offensive defenseman, so his three goals and 17 assists for 20 points don't jump off the page, but the fact that he finished with a +12 +/- rating on a team that gave up four more goals than they scored is impressive.
If there is one area of his game that really stands out, it is that Heinrich can be a punishing physical presence. He doesn't have prototypical NHL defenseman height, standing at only 5'11", but he weighs in at a very solid 192 lbs., and uses that size very effectively. His skating doesn't stand out with blazing straight line speed, or quick, shifty feet, but he is strong on his skates and makes very smooth transitions. He's also a very intelligent player that is excellent at reading plays, especially in the neutral zone, which allows him to get in to get into position to deliver his devastating open-ice hits.
It's worth noting that Heinrich is also a very high-character player. I wrote this about Heinrich last April: "Whichever college lands Heinrich is getting a really nice player. Most impressive is that everyone that talks about Heinrich leads with what a quality person he is." His reputation off the ice is even stronger than his reputation on the ice.
The dreaded lack of upside will likely keep Heinrich from getting picked until the second half of the draft, however. While he has some great tools that make him a very effective player, he doesn't have the type of standout physical abilities that one would expect from a future top-pairing defenseman. He'll spend one more year in Sioux City before heading to Minnesota-Duluth, giving whichever team drafts him 4-5 years to develop and round out his game. From there, his upside is likely as a third, possibly even a second, pairing defenseman that plays smart, reliable hockey, while also contributing a physical presence, similar to the career that Greg Zanon has put together.