DENVER — Danton Heinen’s relationship with Jim Montgomery dates back to his two-year college stint.
With his scoring touch and two-way skillset, Heinen solidified a spot as one of the more prolific offensive weapons on a well-rounded University of Denver roster. Along the way, Montgomery provided a few helpful tips to Heinen, particularly as the winger transitioned from the junior hockey to collegiate ranks.
“Coming from juniors you’re kind of just playing hockey,” Heinen recalled of Montgomery’s advice during his college days. “At school he taught us the real ins and outs and the details of the game. I think that’s what helped a lot.”
As an assertive two-way forward, Heinen averaged over a point per game during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Following his productive college stint, Heinen arrived in Boston hoping to inject some needed youth as the Bruins embarked on a transitional period in the middle of the 2010s.
Heinen showcased glimpses of potential during his four seasons in the Bruins organization, primarily in middle-six duty. His time, however, was cut short after the Bruins traded their 2014 fourth-round selection to Anaheim during the 2020 trade deadline.
While the COVID pandemic resulted in a shortened Orange County stay, Heinen’s time with the Ducks still didn’t pan out as expected, tallying 18 points in 52 games. After completing his final season in Anaheim in 2021, Heinen’s career found some new life after he inked a one-year deal with the Penguins for the 2021-22 season.
Under two-time Cup-winning coach Mike Sullivan, Heinen saw time at both wings throughout Pittsburgh’s lineup. His first year with the Pens resulted in a career-high 18 goals and 33 points in 76 games played.
Heinen’s production dropped off during his second year in Pittsburgh, tallying 22 points in 65 games. As a result, he entered the 2023-24 campaign, hoping to latch on with one of the other 31 clubs as a training camp invitee.
That’s where the Bruins came into play again, this time with his former NCAA coach behind the bench. Indeed, Heinen had his full circle moment even as he noticed some differences in Montgomery’s coaching philosophy in the professional ranks.
“When you’re older, you get a little more leeway and you’re a pro,” Heinen said as he compared and contrasted Montgomery’s pro and college coaching approach. “As a coach in college, you’re hands-on a little more. I think that’s been a difference for sure.”
Heinen would have his reunion with Montgomery and a second chance in Boston. But to wait for the Bruins to become cap-compliant before signing his one-year contract.
“It’s something I try to have in my game…to try and be versatile and fill holes when need be,” Heinen said after leading the center ice stretch at the end of Monday’s pregame skate at Ball Arena. “I think I’ve always been ready for that, and I’ll play wherever they want me to play.”
No matter the situation, including his recent stint with a blossoming Trent Frederic and a returning Matthew Poitras on Boston’s third line, Heinen shined in whatever supporting role the Bruins provided him.
Heinen began his second Boston stint on fourth-line duty with Johnny Beecher and a rotating cast of wingers. But as the Bruins encountered a rash of injuries up front, Montgomery turned to Heinen to fulfill vacancies within the second and third lines.
As he moved around the lineup playing both wings, Heinen skated with almost every Bruins forward during his first 30 games. Whether he’s assigned energy line duty on the fourth line with Jakub Lauko and a rotating cast of grinders, or playing a supportive role for the likes of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Pavel Zacha and the rest of Boston’s primary scoring options, Heinen continues to provide the coaching staff some needed lineup flexibility both in even strength and special teams situations.
“We started out using him on the fourth line. I thought the fourth line had some great games while he was there. But due to injuries, he moved up to the third line — he’s been really good there, and he’s been used on the second line as well. He’s pretty much played with everyone,” Montgomery said of Heinen.
“He can play left wing and he can play right wing. He penalty kills really well for us…wins a lot of battles. That versatility is immense for us.”
According to Natural Stat Trick, during Heinen’s 369:48 of 5v5 minutes, the Bruins have outscored their opponents 20-10 entering Monday. That plus-10 5v5 goal differential sits second behind Colorado Springs native Brandon Carlo’s plus-11.
Heinen’s stat line through 30 games (13 points on five goals and eight assists) isn’t necessarily earth-shattering. Yet, whether he’s helping establish puck possession along the walls, creating chances off the rush, or earning second-effort scoring bids, Heinen continues to open eyes with each performance.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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