BUFFALO -- Boston Bruins forward prospect Danton Heinen is looking to follow in the footsteps of Frank Vatrano, who broke out in his first full season in the NHL in 2015-16.
Heinen, a fourth-round pick (No. 116) by the Bruins in the 2014 NHL Draft, made his professional debut with Providence of the American Hockey League after he completed his sophomore season at Denver University. Though he played two games for Providence in the regular season and two more in the Calder Cup Playoffs, his career with Denver showed he has a great deal of offensive potential.
"I think I had some really good linemates when I was there," Heinen said. "First year I was there, I played with Daniel Doremus and Trevor Moore and this last year I played with Dylan Gambrell (San Jose Sharks) and Trevor Moore again. So I thought we had some good chemistry and worked off each other well, and the coaching staff gave us a good opportunity to produce."
Heinen, 21, is modest about how he was able to score with the Pioneers, but the results speak a little louder. He had 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 41 games last season, tied for 12th in the NCAA in scoring. He averaged more than a point per game at Denver, with 93 points (36 goals, 57 assists) in 81 games over two seasons.
Scoring in college is one thing, but doing it at the next level is another entirely.
Video: CBJ@BOS: Heinen evens the game at 2 with deflection
"Those guys that generally score at that level generally transition well to the pro level, provided they can skate," Providence Bruins coach Kevin Dean said. "If you can keep up, you can let your good hockey IQ take advantage of the situations that present themselves.
"He seems to get around the ice well enough that he's going to get his looks, he's going to get his open ice, and then it's a matter of making plays in so far as he makes them."
Heinen needs to make sure his game can adapt to stiffer competition.
"I believe I can play the pro game," Heinen said. "When I was in college, there wasn't that much pressure. I didn't put too much pressure on myself; I just played my game, worked hard, and let things work out how they do, and I think that's my mentality going into pro hockey as well. I'm going to try to do the same things, try to be the same player, and that's my mindset."
When it comes to making a big impression at the pro level, the success Vatrano had last season set the bar. The 22-year-old forward had 36 goals in 36 games for Providence and was the AHL Co-Rookie of the Year with Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche) of San Antonio. Vatrano was the AHL's top goal scorer, and had eight goals in 39 games for Boston.
Vatrano is expected to miss three months after surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left foot.
The Bruins certainly believe in Heinen's skill set and ability to be a productive player as a professional.
"There's no reason why [he can't be like Vatrano]," Dean said. "It's, again, very early and we'll have to see because I'm sure he's going to have some deficiencies in his game. It's what those are and how serious they are and how quickly he can repair those.
"A lot of times you get young players and they're not strong on pucks and defensively, maybe they're not getting over top of the right guys at the right parts of the ice, but provided that he's such a smart player, I would think that he would understand that pretty quickly and buy into it pretty quickly.
"We'll just have to see over the course of time how he produces, but I don't think there's any reason why not. He's a good enough player, in my opinion, from what I've seen that at some point, I think, he's got a chance to help the Bruins."