When it comes to rookies, everyone’s looking for positives. And in a season that has featured some real ups and downs due to the IR list being a revolving door, nothing has been more exciting for fans than the progress shown by Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen. Both are tied for 3rd on the team in goals scored and have filled out needs that have been touched upon, but rarely if ever followed up on: middle six scoring. Having these two off to the start they’ve had is a big deal going forward and speaks volumes about the kind of forward development Boston has been committing to throughout it’s prospect system.
Let’s go through their game and see what’s given them such buzz in the offensive zone and in the hearts of fans:
I admit that I’m really rooting for this kid to succeed. Not just because of what he represents for Don Sweeney’s drafting decisions, but also for what his game represents: speedy, annoying-but-in-a-good-way, forechecking like a madman kind of hockey. He is a delightful player to watch, not just by taking (and in some cases, making) fortunate bounces and making them his bread and butter for points, but for the fact that his game is predicated on one simple, but very important sentence:
“I will move hell and earth to get to the net and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop me.“
This determination to get a good bullet of a shot off on whatever goaltender happens to be in his way is so integral to his game it’s amazing nobody else in the NHL has picked up on why it’s so successful, because his speed, his shot, and his play recognition is way faster, harder, and sharper than you think it is, and he can mask it very well...so the only thing he needs now is to get at the goaltender. He’s read the entire Buffalo defense like a pamphlet in that sequence, and threads a needle where he could’ve easily gone to Lehner’s open side because he can just kinda do that. Arguably, he’s always been able to do it. And all he needed was a slightly open lane.
And what better way to show it off than to respond to benchings and time-on-ice reductions, right?
Though, a Devil’s advocate opinion: Nothing about DeBrusk’s game actually changes whenever this happens, he still does everything he does well when he struggles, He’s just turned it up when he gets back to his regular levels of ice time, and what do you know? Scoring happens when you prioritize getting to the highest-danger parts of the ice! Weird.
And speaking of players who have turned it up...
Danton Heinen does not play like he’d been bouncing from Providence to Boston for the better part of two years. He plays like he’s been a Boston regular for almost five.
A big part of his game is just that “wise beyond his years” aspect to it: slick, smooth, intelligent passing that opens up lanes, creates opportunity from nothing, smart neutral zone boardplay, and a technician on the power play, knowing exactly where to cause havoc with the right pass or the right shot. It’s this exact knowledge of what to do and where to be there that previously could only be taught by experience and is now something instinct tells him that has him with one of the most prolific statlines on the team: 22 points, in 28 games.
But more than his smarts? It’s his positioning that gets him points, especially when he’s credited with goals. Take a look-see here:
This goal was great, and Heinen got it off of the back of probably the strongest shift of Kevan Miller’s entire year, and he knew exactly where he had to be for it to pay off. Not too far beyond this game, he knew exactly where to be for a Zdeno Chara point shot, and got his stick ready to tip it. Wasn’t that far off from where he was in relation to the goal on that San Jose goal either. And the most recent strong performance, where Charlie McAvoy got himself a Gordie Howe? He knew exactly where to be for David Backes to complete that pass to send it home and take advantage of Columbus’ defensive miscue.
The success of these two has been a triumph for the middle six forward lines, as secondary scoring has been a critical area for Boston to fix since 2015, and has seen little in the way of returns, what with bizarre signings, and confusing roster decisions hampering what could’ve been. But now, these two performing at the level that they are is a great step forward for Boston’s development in forward talent, and speaks volumes about the kind of development both players received while they were Providence Bruins just a year earlier.
The kids are alright, and they’re just gonna get better from here. Get excited about these guys.