Coming off solid preseason performances, Providence Bruins forward Danton Heinen and defenseman Rob O’Gara picked up right where they left off this past Saturday night during Providence’s 5-2 season-opening home win over the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Heinen finished the night with an assist and an even rating while O’Gara had a plus-1 rating and made numerous key defensive plays during the game. To say the least, the two made strong cases to be the next in line when, and if, Boston needs a call up.
“Both guys obviously had great preseasons and sometimes, coming down here [to Providence], there are expectations with that,” Providence head coach Jay Leach said following Saturday’s season-opening win, “but I thought they both performed really well tonight. They were hard on pucks. Danton made some nice plays and obviously, Rob was excellent down low, he closes really well, but they both had a really good camp and they both played well tonight.”
Playing well down low and closing really well is O’Gara’s forte. At 6-foot-4 and 207 lbs., he is a relatively big body that can clean out the front of the net and use his large reach to shut down the incoming opposition, something O’Gara says he has always prided himself on.
“My bread and butter will always be closing in the d-zone,” O’Gara said after Saturday’s victory. “I think I’ll always be a stay-at-home defenseman at heart.”
The numbers certainly back up his claim. In 65 career games with Providence, the Nesconset, New York native and graduate of Milton Academy and Yale has registered five career goals with nine assists and a plus-14 rating. In his three career games in Boston, O’Gara has yet to register a point but does have a plus-one rating.
During the preseason, O’Gara had just one assist in four games played, but putting up points is something he feels confident he can improve on.
“Offensively, I think making a crisp first pass, transitioning better, those are things that I need to work on,” the Bruins’ 2011 fifth round pick said. “I think if I add that dimension of my offense I’ll be okay.”
At the end of camp, O’Gara ultimately lost out to Matt Grzelcyk in the battle for the last defensive spot in Boston, but it is something that won’t deter O’Gara’s mindset.
“I think I have to have a positive mindset,” O’Gara said. “When I came down last year, after a couple games up, I was kind of defeated in a way, now I have a different mindset and I’m trying to absorb everything I can and just try to play hard. I think if I do that, I would have the opportunity to play up in Boston.”
While O’Gara has been focusing on clearing opposing skaters out in front of the net, Heinen is focused on parking himself in front of opposing nets. Heinen has done quite well for himself since he has turned pro. In 67 career games, Heinen has netted 14 career goals to go along with 33 assists. Heinen also had a stellar postseason a year ago, scoring nine goals and nine assists in 17 games.
Along with O’Gara, Heinen had quite the opening night, highlighted by a crisp pass through the seam to Tommy Cross, who capitalized on the power-play early in the second period to put Providence up 4-1.
“That was a play we’ve been working on. On a set play, Tommy just kind of comes in and he made a great shot,” Heinen said of the play.
During five preseason games with Boston this past September, Heinen, himself, had quite the showing – recording a goal and an assist with a plus-one rating. Heinen also skated in eight games with Boston a year ago and is certainly itching to return.
“I just have to be good with the little things,” Heinen said. “Puck battles, being better in my own zone, protecting pucks and just raising my game and get it to a level where I can be the next call up.”
As part of the Bruins’ youth-movement, Heinen, 22, and O’Gara, 24, definitely fit the mold. Both players have gotten a taste of the NHL game and are right on the doorstep of making a return.
With strong camps and an impressive showing in the opening game of the 2017-18 season, Rob O’Gara and Danton Heinen have played their way to the front of the line to be the next call up(s) for Boston.