Given few options this summer, Danton Heinen’s waiting game has paid off with Bruins

Bruins

“He deserved tonight.”

Danton Heinen recorded his first career hat trick on Saturday night. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Danton Heinen had no shortage of options as he glided across the TD Garden ice on Saturday night.

As the Bruins’ goal horn blared through Boston’s barn for a ninth time, an avalanche of baseball brims, scally caps, and woolen toques descended upon Heinen — a fitting bounty for a player who buried the first hat trick of his career.

As is tradition for any Bruins player who lights the lamp three times, Heinen had his pick of the pile of headwear gathered on the frozen sheet — getting to keep one cap as a token for his memorable night.

It’s the first time in a long time where the 28-year-old forward has several possibilities on his plate.

After an underwhelming 2022-23 season in Pittsburgh, Heinen didn’t receive a phone call from any team during free agency. Boston eventually handed Heinen a professional tryout (PTO) contract in early September, more than two weeks after doling out a similar tryout deal to fellow veteran Alex Chiasson.

He outlasted Chiasson following weeks of preseason bouts, but Heinen was forced to play the waiting game once again as Boston tried to carve out a roster spot for him.

It wasn’t until Oct. 30 — eight games into the 2023-24 regular season — that the Bruins finally crafted a one-year, $775,000 contract for Heinen, giving him his sought-after second chance after a summer mired in limbo.

So far, Heinen has made the most of his return to the Bruins.

“I was pumped when I heard he was coming to camp,” Charlie Coyle said of Heinen following Saturday’s 9-4 win over Montreal. “I had a pretty good feeling we’d be seeing him in this lineup and that’s a tough spot to be in — a guy who earned a spot in training camp and kind of had to play the waiting game. I gave him so much credit.

“He’s an awesome guy, awesome human being and he’s just an ultimate teammate too. A guy who does that, came to the rink every day at practice, didn’t say a word — no negativity. Just positive all day and every day and just worked, earned a contract. And he’s been outstanding for us.”

Heinen’s latest stint with the Bruins and a long-awaited reunion with his former college coach in Jim Montgomery has benefited all parties. 

With his three-goal outburst against the Habs, Heinen is now up to eight goals and 17 total points over 37 games this season. His bargain-bin contract already represents one of the top value adds in the NHL this season, while his versatility allows Montgomery to slot up all across a reworked Bruins depth chart.

“He hasn’t been scoring. I actually talked to him, I guess yesterday, about it. Like, you got to keep getting to those areas,” Montgomery said of Heinen. “He [has] the fifth-most scoring chances, five-on-five, on our team — the way we track it. So he’s doing a lot of good things, but he’s not burying them.

“And I could sense the frustration. So it was nice for him to get it, just like it was nice for [Jakub] Lauko to get one [Thursday], it’s great to see [Pavel] Zacha get one [Saturday]. These games with nine goals — we know they’re not going to happen [often], but over the course of the year, guys need to score and they feel good about their own game and their confidence with the puck goes way up.”

On a night where Boston had 16 different skaters record at least a point against the Habs, Heinen was routinely rewarded by planting himself in Grade-A ice.

He opened his scoring in the first period after a shot from Matt Grzelcyk clanged off his stick blade and into Montreal’s net — adding his second via a sharp wrist shot off a rush sequence in the following frame.

With the game already well in hand midway through the third period, Heinen hopped over the boards on the power play and quickly cashed in — taking a feed from Morgan Geekie in front and knocking it home for the hat trick. 

“That’s one thing about the Bruins is how unselfish the group is,” Montgomery noted. “I’ve said it so many times. It’s amazing how everybody cares about everybody else. They continuously went down low to try to get it to Heinen. It was nice. I’m happy for him.”

It’s been a long road for Heinen, who once felt his career was at a crossroads after an offseason marred by inactivity.

But as he tossed his choice of baseball cap to team staffers and welcomed the parade of hugs that awaited him by Boston’s bench, those stressful months in hockey purgatory felt like a distant memory.

“Tonight was unbelievable,” Coyle said. “Everyone’s so happy for him. And I think that says a lot when you see the reactions of your teammates with certain guys when they do well and have success and your teammates are pretty pumped about it — it says a lot about the person.

“We’re all so happy for him and enough can’t be said about how he’s come into this season, what he’s done, and just the team guy he’s been all the way through. He deserved tonight.”