The Bruins Unsung Forward: Danton Heinen

( Photo Credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Over the years, the NHL’s recipe to win Lord’s Stanley Cup has changed. We have seen fewer teams like the 2011 Bruins win with a goalie who catches fire at the right time, coupled with physical and mentally draining gameplay. In recent years, the NHL is trending toward teams winning with a well-rounded offense, two to three talented puck-moving defensemen, a hot goaltender, and role players. These role players don’t always end up on the score sheet night in and night out, nor receive the recognition for their deeds. Instead, these players are winning key puck battles, keeping the puck out of their own end, ensuring the opposition can’t get a quality scoring chance and maintaining high average time on ice. They are an integral part of the current NHL’s winning recipe. Players like Charlie McAvoy and Erik Karlsson are insanely fun to watch and many fans fall in love quickly, but teams need players who can help them in the defensive zone and break the puck out to their fellow line-mates. Enter: Danton Heinen.

Danton Heinen was drafted 116th overall in the 2014 NHL draft from the British Columbia Hockey League Surrey Eagles. In 2014, he attended the University of Denver, having two very successful consecutive years at center for the Pioneers. He posted 93 points and a plus 38 in 81 games, while also winning Rookie of the Year in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference; he led the Pioneers both years in scoring. His scouting report highlighted that he has very good hands and a nose for the net. He can play on both wings, which adds to his overall versatility.

 

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Versatility is something the Bruins have always valued.  They’ve sought out players who are able to give more than just a scoring touch, which speaks to most of their players’ abilities.  Injuries and poor play can elevate another player into a role they’re not used to. Heinen has been given the opportunity to play on all four lines and in most situations. He has seen time on both the power-play and penalty kill, as well as playing alongside David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Charlie Coyle without skipping a beat. These opportunities aren’t new to Heinen in his hockey career. When signing with the Bruins, Heinen’s college coach (now Dallas Stars Head Coach) Jim Montgomery spoke of Heinen in high regards: “The accolades he’s accrued and the (statistical) numbers he’s produced during his time at Denver speak volumes about his talent as a hockey player, but the things that don’t show up on a score sheet – his tremendous character, work ethic and dedication to his teammates – are truly immeasurable and that’s what makes him such a special young man.”  These attributes are what make Danton an extremely special player and unfortunately misunderstood. 

 

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Over the years, Bruins fans have fallen in love (almost to a fault) with the gifted and exciting players who zip in and out of defenders for highlight-reel goals.  In last year’s Stanley Cup run, Heinen was wrongfully judged to the point where fans wanted him watching from the press box as a healthy scratch.  He wasn’t the top goal scorer, power-play contributor, or delivering massive neutral zone hits.  He was, however, consistently breaking the puck out and winning puck battles in corners and open space to allow scoring plays to develop.  If a defenseman has a great game, you rarely notice them on the ice because they are doing their job. The same applies to Heinen: one of his biggest strengths is preventing the opposition from scoring, which is what fans admire Patrice Bergeron for.  So why is the love lost with Danton?

He played the majority of the 2018 playoff games on the third line with Weymouth-native Charlie Coyle, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Minnesota for another Massachusetts native, Ryan Donato.  Heinen was second on the team in plus/minus in the playoffs, only behind Coyle.  Even further, Heinen did not post a minus from Game 5 of the Toronto series through Game 2 of the St Louis series, which totals 13 straight games.  Many have disputed the plus/minus stat because sometimes it doesn’t give an accurate assessment of a player or play.  For example, a player will receive a minus on the score sheet if they are on the ice for an empty-net goal.  However, Heinen was on the ice for an average of 13:14 throughout the playoffs, which is very modest for a third liner and supports his plus play.   He was also tied for third on the team in takeaways with Brandon Carlo at 43.

 

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The Bruins’ Achillies heel last year was their lack of consistent scoring depth. Many hoped the acquisition of Coyle would spark Heinen and his teammates throughout the playoffs, but it did not come to fruition. The first line was relied on heavily throughout the playoffs to provide the goal-scoring, which fans rightfully expect out of their star players. The problem arose when the same group of stars went cold in the Stanley Cup Final, resulting in the St. Louis Blues raising the Cup on the TD Garden ice.  Depth scoring needs to come from all four lines in order to win: see the Merlot line in 2011. There is some blame to cast on Heinen in last year’s playoffs, specifically with his lowly 8 points.  He showed flashes of offensive prowess in a few games, but unfortunately could not consistently sustain it over a seven-game series.

This year, Heinen has been able to play with the likes of Jake DeBrusk and (when healthy) David Krejci on the Bruins second line.  He already has 6 points in 13 games played this season, which puts him on pace for 38 points.  This would not surpass his career-high of 47 points set in his rookie season, however, it would provide the regular depth scoring the Bruins have lacked for a few years. He is frequently in the right place at the right time, which is not by accident.  Heinen’s ability to get the puck out of the neutral zone from multiple defenders has lead to great rewards.

 

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The Bruins have been searching for a dominant and consistent top 6 forward since Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton have left town. They have tried numerous players on Krejci’s right side, but none have been able to stick for a full season. Danton Heinen is the next player to be given the chance to seize the opportunity. If he can continue his strong two-way play and create plays out of the zone, Heinen and his teammates will reap the benefits and Boston may have finally found the top 6 forward they’ve been desperately searching for

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Boston Bruins Karson Kuhlman: Expect The Unexpected

( Photo Credit: Boston Informer )

By: Greg Aker  |  Follow Me On Twitter @akesNpains1

When it comes to name recognition, Karson Kuhlman isn’t your ordinary household name.  Outside of northern Minnesota and the greater Boston area, most hockey fans don’t know much about him.

 A 23-year-old from Esko, Minnesota, Kuhlman is starting to get the attention that he has long deserved.  A 2014 graduate of Esko High School, Kuhlman got his shot at some big-time hockey at a fairly young age. He rose through the youth ranks as a standout player and caught the attention of potential suitors further down the road on his hockey journey. Having played high school hockey in what is arguably the most competitive state from top to bottom in the entire country, Karson shined. He totaled 50 points as a freshman in only 25 games. After a stellar sophomore year, he headed south to get his feet wet in the United States Hockey League. He played the maximum amount of games allowed to retain his high school eligibility with the Dubuque Fighting Saints after he was selected 48th overall in the 2011 Future’s Draft.  With multiple appearances at national camps and countless games in elite leagues, Kuhlman had name recognition.

Following his junior season, Karson left for good. He jumped into the Fighting Saints lineup just in time to help his team win the 2013 Clark Cup, awarded to the USHL playoff champions. In his first full season playing with Dubuque, Kuhlman led the team in goals (25), was second in points (44), and earned a spot on the league’s Eastern Conference All-Star Team.  His former head coach, Jim Montgomery (and current head coach of the Dallas Stars), took a job as the head coach of the storied Denver University Pioneers and hoped to land him. After official visits to the University of Minnesota Duluth and the University of North Dakota, it was on the car ride home from Grand Forks, N.D. that Kuhlman told his father that he wanted to be a Minnesota Duluth Bulldog.

 In college, Kuhlman started to fly under the radar a bit, and many that know his story often question why. He was told by multiple NHL organizations that he was a potential draft pick. It never happened. Talking with Karson’s mother Jennifer, she mentioned Karson was and continues to be his biggest critic. Not being drafted by a professional club only further motivated him. He didn’t let it bother him, continued to work hard, and has always lived “in the now.” Nothing about his college career would jump out at you on paper.

He posted 80 points over the course of four seasons, a fairly modest total for a kid now jumping into an NHL lineup. Still, what makes Karson special is what doesn’t always show up on the point sheet. He was selected as an assistant team captain of the Bulldogs as a junior and captained the team as a senior.  His leadership qualities were so strong that head coach Scott Sandelin didn’t name a third captain after underclassman, and then assistant captain Adam Johnson left for the professional ranks within the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Kuhlman played in every single game of his college career. 166 straight if anyone is counting. Former UMD assistant coach and 8-year NHL veteran Derek Plante had this to say about the current Bruin: “Karson is the hardest working player that I have had the pleasure to work with.

It comes as no surprise that he is continuing to have success at the highest level. He is the player that every coach wants on his team and is a joy to be around.”  His senior year as a collegiate player wasn’t promising to start. The Bulldogs were hoping to rebound from a devastating loss in the National Championship to the University of Denver the previous April. Onlookers didn’t have high expectations for the 2017-2018 UMD Bulldogs. Instead of accepting the predicted outcome by others, Kuhlman worked extra hard and instilled his leadership in his teammates. The end result was the program’s second-ever national championship.  You can probably guess who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. It was Karson Kuhlman.

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 Kuhlman attended professional development camps during his collegiate career in Winnipeg, Montreal, and Boston. Only four days removed from winning a national championship, Kuhlman signed a two-year NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. Kuhlman joined the Providence Bruins on an Amateur Tryout Agreement for the remainder of the 2017-2018 season, tallying a lone assist over the course of two games. Kuhlman has totaled 12-18-30 over 58 games for Providence this season, but it’s what he has shown at the professional level that has been most impressive.

He has played alongside virtually every forward in the Boston lineup over the course of 11 games. He has factored in the scoring column and sits at a +5. Karson Kuhlman is versatile. He kills penalties. He plays a tremendous two-way game. He plays instinctively and intelligently regardless if he has the puck or not. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. It’s these qualities that have gained the attention of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, and rightfully so. Like he has proven time and time again throughout his life, he won’t let anyone out-work him. What he lacks in skill he makes up for it through dedication and hard work.

 Karson Kuhlman isn’t your ordinary household name, but the fact that he will play a factor for the Boston Bruins moving forward just might change that. 

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