After the Penguins signed Brock McGinn to a four-year contract, it looked like the team was checking out of free agency. They had very little cap space left to use and most thought the remainder of it was going to Zach Aston-Reese, who was their last RFA to sign. General Manager Ron Hextall had other plans though as he inked former Anaheim Duck winger Danton Heinen to a one-year deal worth $1.1M. It’s a low-risk high-reward move for a team that just lost two good forwards to expansion. Many expect Heinen to be only a contributor on the bottom-six and the penalty kill, but his past history shows that he could be so much more.
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His Offensive Impact
This is perhaps the best attribute of Heinen’s game. He’s had a 47-point season once during his career (2018 with Boston) and one 34-point season as well. For comparison’s sake, McCann only hit that threshold once while he was in Pittsburgh. Yes, his underlying numbers are a lot better than Heinen’s but Heinen has also been playing on arguably the worst team in hockey the last couple of seasons. He put up seven goals and 14 points in 43 games with underlying that look like this (via Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz):
He also didn’t exactly play with world-beaters on his line. Per Natural Stat Trick, his most common linemates last season were Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique. Silfverberg saw his production plummet to just 16 points last season while Henrique barely got over 20 points. No disrespect to both of those players, but he’ll be getting an upgrade in linemates while he’s in Pittsburgh, whether that’s Jeff Carter, Jason Zucker, Brock McGinn, or even Teddy Blueger. With that, he could very likely get back to a level we saw from him during the 2019-2020 season:
Goes to the prime scoring areas
The sample size is smaller than what we got from this past season but notice the red blob in the high-danger areas. He was getting to the net with authority and creating chances on a nightly basis, even if the puck wasn’t going in all the time. This is also backed up by Evolving Hockey’s Skater Chart for Heinen for 2019-2020:
Almost all of his shots came from either right in-between the faceoff dots or closer to the net. Despite not cashing in on more chances, it still led Heinen to produce 10 goals and 26 points that season, with three of those goals coming in just nine games with Anaheim. If this is the type of offense the Penguins get in from Heinen, they’ll be one problem short going into the trade deadline and postseason.
Heinen’s defensive impacts this past season took a ginormous dive. He was on the ice for 528 minutes in the defensive zone and in that timeframe, the Ducks expected goals against per 60 was almost at 3 (2.86). Part of that has to do with the Ducks being one of the worst defensive teams in the league, but it was still a bit shocking to see, especially after looking at his previous results:
For those that haven’t seen this one before, the top chart represents offense, while the bottom represents defense. A player should always strive to be in the negative portion on the bottom because that means they’re doing their job in the defensive zone. Heinen did just that in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 as he clogged up the high-danger areas only to then give it all back during the 2020-2021 season. Again, playing on a more structured and more defensive-minded team in the Penguins should reverse those numbers from this past season for him.
As for the penalty kill, it’s well known that almost any player in the league can kill penalties, though some are a lot better than others. Heinen falls into that category as he was arguably the Ducks’ best player on their unit. He played 50 minutes in that role during last season and he absolutely crushed those minutes:
Notice how effective Heinen was at taking away the prime scoring areas for the opposition. With how the Penguins like to run that “Wedge + 1” style that Jesse Marshall did a video about earlier this year, this should be a seamless transition. He can either play down low or be that pest at the top that Brandon Tanev used to be to try and take away the best passing lanes.
The bottom line
Even though there have been some Mark Jankowski comparisons to the Heinen signing, I’ve seen no evidence to say that this will play out the same way. Heinen is coming over to Pittsburgh with a fresh start in mind, and that might be exactly what he needs after playing on a Ducks team that isn’t going anywhere. Mike Sullivan can move him up and down the lineup and if he rediscovers that scoring touch from a couple of years ago, it’ll be like Jared McCann never left.