By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The press release the Bruins put out Thursday morning said Danton Heinen was called up from Providence, but it might as well have been an Amazon delivery order for extra offense.
Heinen scored twice, his first two NHL goals, in a 2-1 win against San Jose at TD Garden.
It could be a step toward the Bruins stabilizing their lineup and balancing out the offense that’s too often top-heavy.
Luckily coach Bruce Cassidy hasn’t been wedded to the notion that skilled players like the 22-year-old Heinen have to play in the top six to succeed. Cassidy has had no problem again pairing Heinen with Tim Schaller, and that paid off Thursday.
The notion of Heinen as a bottom-six performer came to Cassidy during a postseason scouting mission.
“I think for me it was last year watching him in the playoffs in Providence,” Cassidy said. “Games got harder, heavier, to see him play a complete game, it was a different player than when he left here and when he got sent back. … He was able to do some of those things, be heavier on pucks and use his body to win pucks on the wall. Things … that don’t show up in the scoresheet. So that is for me when it dawned on me that he might be able to play in the bottom of the lineup.”
Heinen’s eight-game stint with the Bruins last season convinced everyone he couldn’t play anywhere in their lineup. He didn’t register a point despite averaging 13:14 of ice time and getting a power-play assignment. Something clicked for Heinen after his call-up before his current one. He went out west with the Bruins and had three assists in three games playing with Schaller and Sean Kuraly.
But Oct. 17 brought another demotion, possibly more for business reasons that hockey reasons. It wasn’t exactly in line with the Bruins’ mantra about the best players always playing, but Heinen took the news the right way.
“Obviously, you don’t like it right away. But there’s no reason to be pouting,” he said. “There’s always injuries and you hate to see guys go down. But there’s holes that need to be filled, they’re going to call guys up so you want to be first in line.”
Heinen had seven points (one goal, six assists) in three games for Providence. Back with Boston against the Sharks, Heinen picked up where he left off. He scored his first goal shorthanded on a 2-on-2, rewarding Cassidy’s faith in putting him on the penalty kill.
Heinen’s second goal was the product of his synergy with Schaller and a fortuitous bounce. Heinen pressured the normally sure-handed Marc-Edouard Vlasic into a giveaway below the Sharks’ goal line, and Schaller was in the vicinity to pick up the puck. After a pass back to Brandon Carlo, the defenseman’s slap shot went off the end wall on one side of the net and out the other side to Heinen for a slam dunk and a 2-1 Bruins lead.
There were other offensive opportunities created by Heinen and Schaller, who skated with Sean Kuraly at the start and then a mix of Riley Nash and Frank Vatrano after Kuraly was benched because of his one-man parade to the penalty box.
The lines got juggled but there was no way Cassidy could separate Heinen was Schaller, a left-shot forward who’s in an opposite role from Heinen. Schaller’s a player with a reputation as a bottom-six grinder that often earns playing time higher up in the lineup with his surprisingly talented hands and his versatility to play wing and center.
It appears Heinen and Schaller’s games have met somewhere in the middle between skill and grit. Nine days apart didn’t diminish their chemistry.
“When you click you don’t really lose it,” Schaller said. “All I had to do was talk to him a little bit and figure things out and make sure we’re still on the same page. And it obviously works.”
It was appropriate that some of the Denver University’s coaches, in town to face Boston College and Boston University this weekend, were in attendance for Heinen’s outburst. It may have taken a little longer than he liked, but in his second season since leaving DU after his sophomore year, Heinen has proven he belongs in the NHL.
Now it’ll be up to Cassidy to find a long-term spot in the lineup for Heinen. The coach admitted he’s tempted to move Heinen up in the lineup, but the Bruins have been satisfied with the play of rookie wings Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork in their spots.
Perhaps there’s no reason to move him. For now Heinen is the perfect pair for Schaller; maybe down the road he could be the right complement for Ryan Spooner, when Spooner returns from injury.
Regardless of who he plays with, the important thing is that Heinen continues to play a complete game while providing offense, a challenge he has seemingly accepted in his second pro season. Finding a lineup spot for Heinen should be the only decision the Bruins have to make about him, because Providence doesn’t seem like an option anymore.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.