The University of Denver sophomore, who was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, tallied five goals through the first 19 games of the season, during which the Pioneers were hovering near .500 at 8-7-4.
But shortly into the new year, Heinen – and Denver – began to take off. Over the final 19 games of the season, the 20-year-old forward potted 14 goals and 30 points, including a stretch in which he finished the season with a 16-game point streak.
During the same period, Denver posted a record of 15-2-2, highlighted by an 11-game winning streak. The Pioneers rolled in two NCAA Tournament games, winning contests against Boston University and Ferris State by a combined score of 13-5, before falling to rival North Dakota in the Frozen Four.
“Personally, I thought I had a little bit of a slow start,” said Heinen, who was signed by the Bruins to a three-year entry-level contract on Monday and will play the rest of the season in Providence on an Amateur Tryout Agreement.
“As a team we weren’t playing too great before Christmas, we had a little bit of a slump. But I think after Christmas, personally, I just kind of tried to work harder and get better every day.
“That’s the same with our team, we’re trying to get better every day and I think that’s led to our success in the second half of the season.”
Heinen was a major contributor to Denver’s postseason offensive explosion, with six points (one goal, five assists) over the first two games.
His growth as an offensive player, however, is not the area of his game Heinen feels has been most improved this season.
“I think defensively I’ve improved a lot since last year,” said Heinen. “I think having Jim Montgomery as a coach, he stresses good defense a lot. I think that and just over the summer I was working on my strength a lot and trying to get stronger so that I could keep working on my skating and try to get faster.”
Heinen’s development accelerated quickly once he arrived at Denver last season. And with his rise came numerous accolades.
He was a Second-Team NCHC All-Star, as well as the league’s Rookie of the Year last season, and was named a First-Team All-Star this season, after tallying 20 goals and 28 assists in 40 games.
“I don’t know if I expected it,” Heinen said of his rapid success. “I think I was given a good opportunity here, given some good linemates my freshman year and this year obviously.
“I think it was just kind of a mix between getting put in a good position here and making the most of it.”
Furthering his career at the college level was always how Heinen envisioned his path unfolding. And with so much success, there is little doubt he made the right decision.
“I didn’t really have much opportunity to go major junior,” said Heinen, who played two years in the British Columbia Hockey League before moving on to Denver.
“I was a little bit of a later bloomer, so I think the college route was perfect for me. I’ve really enjoyed myself here at Denver. It was the perfect road for me.
“We don’t play as many games, but it gives you more time in the weight room just to try to get stronger and also work on your game more.”
In addition to the direction and advice provided by the Denver coaching staff, Heinen has also had at his disposal the guidance of Bruins management. Boston's Director of Player Development Jay Pandolfo and Development Coach Jamie Langenbrunner visited with Heinen at various points of the season.
“It’s an honor to be a part of such a great organization and to have such smart hockey people that you can call whenever. It’s huge,” said Heinen.
“Jay Pandolfo and Jamie Langenbrunner have come out to a few games, so I always talk to them after to get some feedback from them, see what they say, see what I need to work on. It’s always nice to see them coming out.”
Heinen said he has not had as much of a chance to interact with his fellow Bruins prospects, though there is the possibility he’ll be bumping into one soon. Boston College forward Ryan Fitzgerald is the only other B’s prospect remaining in the Frozen Four, meaning the two could be facing off if both Denver and BC advance to the National Championship.
“Fitzgerald’s had a great college career so far, so it’s good for him that he’s in the Frozen Four as well,” said Heinen. “Should be exciting.”
The Pioneers will have to get through North Dakota should the meeting become reality. The NCHC rivals have already played five times this season, with two wins apiece and a tie.
“It’s a pretty good rivalry,” said Heinen. “They’ve got a good top line, but they’re definitely a well-rounded team. They’re deep, a lot like us. We know what to expect, they know what to expect from us, so I think it’s just whoever can prepare the best and execute the best.”
“There won’t be a waiting-out process, we’re both going to be ready, we’re both going to know what to expect.”
Regardless of how things turn out, Heinen is trying to embrace the Frozen Four experience.
“There’s going to be a lot of distractions and a lot of different things going on,” said Heinen. “It’s going to be something that’s new to us, but I think we’re going to have to stay focused and keep our eyes on the prize because you don’t get an opportunity to go to the Frozen Four very often.”