It's quite remarkable that Danton Heinen is even playing college hockey this season. Two years ago, in what was his first year of NHL Draft eligibility, Heinen was playing for the Richmond Sockeyes of the Junior B Pacific Junior Hockey League, a league rarely, if ever scouted by NCAA Division I programs, let alone NHL teams.
But since that point, it has been a very rapid ascent up the hockey ladder for Heinen. The following season, Heinen joined the Surrey Eagles of the Junior A BCHL and really blossomed as a player. He scored 61 points in 57 games, and midway through the season, he was named the team's captain, becoming the youngest captain in the BCHL. For his efforts, he was named the BCHL's rookie of the year. In February of last season, Heinen was offered a scholarship and made a commitment to play college hockey for Denver. It was expected that Heinen would play another year in the BCHL, but when it become apparent that he was going to be a relatively high NHL Draft pick, Denver decided in May that he would join the Pioneers this year.
Boston selected Heinen in the fourth round of the draft, 116th overall. After the Draft, Bruins management said they liked Heinen's offensive ability, but that he needed to put on some weight."
I took a closer look at Heinen during last Saturday's 6-1 loss against Minnesota Duluth to get a better idea of the type of game he played.
Heinen is listed at 6'0", but looks to be a lot closer to 5'11" than he is to 6'1", with a weight of only 161 lbs. He skates with a wide, solid base and has pretty strong legs, so he's got the frame to add on some muscle. He's got a lot of work to do to develop his upper body strength though.
His skating is pretty good. He's not super-fast, but he has quick feet and should get a little faster as he fills out. His wide skating base makes him strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck, and he uses his edges well to shift his weight.
The lack of upper body strength shows up frequently though. He struggled to gain leverage on defenders and get into prime scoring areas without the puck, and his shot isn't heavy enough to do much from the perimeter yet. He won the occasional battle along the boards, but did so with a quick stick rather than outmuscling a defender.
But despite his size issues, he's still playing on the second line, and seeing second unit power play minutes on a nationally-ranked team that returned every forward from last year's squad, which really speaks to his offensive abilities. He's capitalizing on that ice time right now too, with 1-3-4 in four games played.
His best asset right now is that he is so smooth with the puck on his stick. He made a big-league play to catch a pass in his skates and get it up to his stick without losing stride that turned a broken play in the neutral zone into a scoring chance. He did get a little too far above the puck on the offensive rush, forcing himself to stall at the attacking blue line rather than attacking the zone with speed(which may also just be his role to stretch the ice on Denver's breakout).
Looking at in broad strokes, I'd say the Bruins organization had Heinen pegged pretty perfectly. It's going to take a few years before Bruins fans begin to see the benefits, but upper body strength is one of the easier things in terms of developing a prospect, and Heinen should have no trouble doing that while playing college hockey. When he fills out a little more, Heinen shows tremendous potential to be a skilled scoring line winger at the pro level.