The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of a rebuild, and for Kent Hughes and Co., this means prioritizing development over short-term success. This also affords the opportunity to give prospects a chance to play in the best league in the world, should they prove ready.
With that in mind, here is a Canadiens prospect who could be knocking at the proverbial door, as the team cements its opening night roster.
(Editor’s Note: This article was written by our new contributor, Franck Bernard)
Who Is Montreal Canadiens Prospect, Emil Heineman?
This 21-year-old Swedish forward was drafted 43rd overall in the 2020 draft by the Florida Panthers. He would then be shipped to Calgary in the Sam Bennett trade before eventually making his way to Montreal, via the Tyler Toffoli trade.
The fast and sturdy 6’, 194 lbs. left winger will be entering the second year of his entry-level contract – taking him to RFA status at the end of the 24-25 season – and has yet to take part in an NHL contest.
Last season started well for Heineman, as he left quite the visiting card at the Montreal Canadiens Rookie Camp. He maintained his momentum through to the main training camp and was amongst the last players cut from the roster. His performance gave us a glimpse into a player that could become an effective asset for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.
Unfortunately, he got injured towards the very end of camp, forcing him into recovery before reporting to Leksands, in the SHL, the team for whom he’s been playing since the end of the 19-20 season. Considered by many to be the third-best league in the world – behind the NHL and KHL – the SHL is a great place for players to grow their pro game, playing against men with more professional experience.
With limited use, primarily as a 3rd liner, Heineman potted 8 goals and added 7 assists in 35 games, one point less than his previous SHL campaign, where he racked up 11 goals and 5 assists in 38 contests.
— Mitch Giguere (@Mitch_Giguere) February 14, 2022
At the end of his 22-23 SHL season, he crossed the pond to help the Laval Rocket close out their regular season.
And that’s when things got very interesting.
In (a small sample of) 11 regular season AHL games, Heineman scored 7 goals while tallying 2 assists for a whopping 0.64 goals/game, before being kept off the scoresheet for 2 playoff matchups. He also had an impressive 42 shots on net in that timeframe.
Even though he only played a handful of games, statistically speaking, Heineman was one of the most important players for the Rocket, and was a major factor in their late-season push to qualify for the playoffs.
THE MAN DOESN'T MISS!
It's Emil Heineman on the power play! pic.twitter.com/2tFVn8h1E1
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 2, 2023
Heineman’s best weapon is his heavy shot.
While he is not a pure sniper who can score from anywhere – as Cole Caufield might be – he can still beat NHL goalies cleanly. Part of his success as a goal scorer also comes from his ability to find soft spots on the ice to receive a pass for an easy goal. Most of his AHL goals were great examples of that, where goalies could not adjust quickly enough to prevent Heineman from scoring.
This might be why expectations should be tempered when salivating at his AHL stats line: he wasn’t dominating games or scoring at will but rather, he was at the right place at the right time – albeit a very valuable skill in its own right.
With that in mind, Habs brass may need to see a bigger sample size before declaring him too prolific for the AHL.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) March 29, 2023
Another area where Heineman’s game can shine is his physicality. In his junior days, he was a terror along the boards – taking pleasure in punishing defenders in retrieval of deep pucks.
But this is not something he does extensively in the SHL. His opponents are now faster, stronger, absorb hits better, and are less likely to panic when chased down.
In professional leagues, defenders are better at drawing hits before making smart passes. This can render hitting ineffective at times, luring the checker out of position. The fact that Heineman is electing for smarter positional forecheck over big hits may be a sign he is evolving into a more rounded, pro player.
Areas to improve
Consistency is key, yet hard to attain. Especially for young players.
Not dissimilar to a player like Jesse Ylönen, Heineman may find some success in the AHL but struggle to see his production translate to the NHL right away. This is conjuncture and remains to be seen, but so far in his pro career, he hasn’t lit up any league for prolonged stretches of time. It would be wishful thinking to believe he could suddenly do it in the NHL.
And players who cannot be constant point producers need to become role players – either defensive specialists or forechecking forces.
If Heineman is to crack this Habs roster, he may have to become one of those two things, yet, he currently is neither.
Clear instructions from the coaching staff to dust off the shoulder pads combined with playing a smaller surface could be the recipe that reconnects him to what made him a touted draft pick.
Doing so, he could develop into a useful checking middle-six player with a playing style akin to players like Blake Coleman or Nino Niederreiter. Notching 15-20 goals a season while being a fan-favourite, hit-delivering, effective forechecker is not out of the question if he manages to put it all together.
Odds of making the team
Despite bringing something to the table that the Canadiens clearly lack, a great shot, Heineman’s chances of cracking the line-up come October are low due to a lack of roster space among forwards.
He would have to be undeniably superior to fringe or underperforming established Montreal Canadiens players like Ylönen, Pezzetta or Armia to force Hughes’ hand. It would also probably mean Hughes would have to trade a player or risk losing one to waivers to accommodate his graduation.
A full year in Laval seems the likely scenario, as he adapts to a smaller ice and a North American brand of hockey. It’s also the perfect situation for Heineman to work on his defensive awareness.
However, expect management to take a good, hard look at him when the injury bug inevitably hits.
Do you think Emil Heineman will make the Montreal Canadiens opening-night roster? Let us know in the comments below!