Bruins notebook: Danton Heinen making himself useful

Danton Heinen will never be a bruiser. At 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, he’s average height for an NHLer, and a tad on the slim side.

But if a player is smart and attentive, he can not only learn how to win little battles in the NHL, he will come to understand the significance of them.

It looks like Heinen is smart and attentive.

With four games under his belt in his second tour of duty with the Bruins, it’s becoming clear that he’s added a layer of of responsibility and tenacity on the puck that can make him a valuable utility man for coach Jim Montgomery, especially now after it was learned that Morgan Geekie will be out week-to-week with an upper body injury.

“I think as you get more years in the league, you realize that those things are really important because there’s a lot of good players out there and there’s not a whole lot of difference,” said Heinen after Wednesday’s practice. “And the small stuff is not something everyone sees. But as you get older, you realize those things are important. You have to do that if you want to be a reliable player and one that sticks around and helps the team. When you’re younger, you think you’re doing all those things but, as you get older, you grow and you realize there’s more. You grow as a player and you learn more.”

The 28-year-old Heinen’s hard-earned savvy was on display in the B’s 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Monday when he assisted on Mason Lohrei’s first NHL goal. He was able to receive an Ian Mitchell pass behind the net while simultaneously using his leverage to pinch off Dallas defenseman Thomas Harley, then skate out to the dot to find the open Lohrei for the screen-shot goal.

“As you get older, you get a little stronger on pucks,” said Heinen, who signed wiht the B’s last week after coming to camp on a tryout deal. “I think it’s a mindset, too, where you do have to be really hard to win pucks because D-men are really big and strong and you do have to bear down. I keep on learning, keep on focusing on that and really have that will to win the puck and to keep on grinding away at it.”

Heinen’s game might have matured no matter where he went after being traded from Boston to Anaheim at the 2020 trade deadline for Nick Ritchie. But it didn’t hurt that he landed in Pittsburgh after that, with a cast of future Hall of Famers and a detail-oriented coach in Mike Sullivan.

“He was good. He’s a good coach,” said Heinen. “You’ve seen the success they had there with that team. And there were a lot of older guys, too. I learned a lot from them. There’s a lot of accountability over there. You couldn’t take nights off and the accountability runs through the lineup. The guys just want to win and want to be the best, and some of them are the best at what they do. It’s good to learn and, yeah, Sully preached accountability and winning your battles.”

Jim Montgomery coached Heinen in college at Denver and he’s seeing some of the traits that made him such an impact player at that level resurfacing now.

“What I’ve liked so far is he’s winning a lot of pucks battles and his positioning, his ability to grow the game in all three zones has been very evident as he’s gotten more games under his belt. It’s gotten better and better,” said Montgomery. “Last game, he possessed the puck a lot and now we’re seeing the player I knew in college that makes a lot of plays because he’s hanging on to pucks and making his linemates better.”

It looks like Heinen will climb up a notch in the lineup with Geekie out. He skated on a line with rookie Matt Poitras and Jake DeBrusk in Wednesday’s practice.

“Yeah, if I’m there, (Poitras) is a talented player,” said Heinen. “He hangs onto pucks, he makes plays. He’s a smart player, so it would be great to be there. I’ll be ready to shoot and help any why I can.”….

Jakub Lauko returned to practice in a red non-contact jersey and a full cage. The winger has not played since suffering multiple fracture around the eye in Chicago when a skate blade came far too close to his left eye for anyone’s liking. He is also wearing a neck guard that some NHL players have adopted since the tragedy in the British pro league when American-born player Adam Johnson died after being cut in the neck with a skate blade in a British pro league.

“I’m just grateful that I can be here now because it was a close call, close to the eye. It changes your view of hockey and everything because of what happened a few days later with Adam in England. It’s horrible and you remember how fast and how dangerous the sport is. I’m just grateful that I can be here after two weeks,” said Lauko. “After this experience with the eye and after what happened with the eye, yeah, it’s too much to risk. When you can put something on the neck it’s better because it’s the most vulnerable spot. I’m going to start wearing the neck and wrist guards, too, so I’m just trying to add a layer of protection in those areas that are vulnerable. It’s always better to be ready than sorry. I’ll wear the neck guard I think for the rest of my career.”

When the accident happened in Chicago, his eye filled with blood and he could not see out of it.

“When it first happened, my eye went pitch black so my first reaction was that I lost the eye,” said Lauko. “So I sort of went into panic mode. I was shaking. It wasn’t a nice situation. Even in the locker room, the trainers told me ‘it missed the eye, it missed the eye.’ But I was in a kind of shock. It was hard to get through the emotion. It was one of your senses and I think the most important one. It was a lot of emotion. After they sewed it up, I’m going to be honest, I was crying because there was a lot of emotion around…I’m very grateful I can be here and that it missed the eye by millimeters.”…

Derek Forbort (lower body) returned to practice but Montgomery said he remains questionable for Thursday’s game against the Islanders.

Charlie McAvoy, meanwhile, was waiting to hear the verdict on his appeal to commissioner Gary Bettman on his four-game suspension for his high, late hit on Florida’s Oliver Ekman-Larson. He’s served three games so far.




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