It is now official. Emil Heineman has signed his three-year entry-level contract (ELC) that will begin in the 2022-23 season. He will now travel to North America to finish the season by signing a professional try-out (PTO) to join the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Laval Rocket. Because he was on the Canadiens’ reserve list at the 2022 Trade Deadline, he is eligible to play with Laval in the AHL playoffs.
Originally a 2020 second-round pick of the Florida Panthers, Heineman is already well-traveled in the NHL without ever having set foot in North America. He was traded as part of the Sam Bennett deal with the Calgary Flames. Less than one calendar year later, he was traded again, this time as part of the Tyler Toffoli trade that saw general manager Kent Hughes acquire in return, Heineman, a 2022 first-round pick, a 2022 fifth-round pick, and Tyler Pitlick.
New Canadiens Winger Playing Style
Heineman is a 6-foot-1, left-shot left winger who is capable of playing both wings, having played with Leksands IF of the Swedish Elite League. He is a speedy, two-way forward with a high hockey IQ that boasts a very heavy and accurate shot. He is also adept at getting to the net to score by using his shot with a quick release, tip-ins, and rebounds. His best asset, however, may be his work ethic.
Related: Montreal Canadiens Prospect Pyramid – End of Season 2021-22
During his formative years leading up to his draft year, before he had a late growth spurt, he had succeeded by being persistent, using his hockey sense to anticipate plays, and using body positioning to win puck battles. This style also meant he had to play fearlessly and embrace the physical aspects of the game as he would need to persevere to balance his lack of size.
“I’ve always liked playing hard. It’s always been like that; I liked when we started hitting when we were small kids and playing tough and stuff like that. I was always the smallest kid up to high school, and I guess it comes from that — I always had to bring my ‘A’ game to every practice and every game when I was so much smaller than everyone else, and it stuck with me. That’s one of my biggest strengths, absolutely.”-Emil Heineman (Wes Gilbertson, High-energy prospect Emil Heineman aiming for ‘hopefully a lot of seasons in Calgary’, The Calgary Sun, 04 Jan 2022)
Having the late growth spurt to get to 6-foot-1, 185 pounds definitely help him in his transition to North American professional hockey. He still has room to grow into his frame and strength to add, but that tenacity will benefit him and most likely help to lead him into an NHL role in the future. It was also one of the main attributes that attracted teams to him in the first place.
“To me, that’s the most impressive thing about him — this is a young player that isn’t afraid to compete against men. He’s not afraid to go into tough areas. He’s not afraid to attack. He’s a very direct player, and he wins battles. It’s that competitiveness, that energy, the willingness to win races, to be first on pucks, to drive D wide… He does all that stuff, and he does it as a young player against way older players. He’s a fearless player that way, which is what I really like about him and why I think he’ll really fit in well with us.”-Calgary Flames Director of Player Development Ray Edwards (Wes Gilbertson, High-energy prospect Emil Heineman aiming for ‘hopefully a lot of seasons in Calgary’, The Calgary Sun, 04 Jan 2022)
In the Canadiens’ organization, speed and skill are valued, but there aren’t many that can couple that skill with an ability to be a consistent net-front presence. Heineman has that, which leads to scoring chances, but also forces defenders to focus on him, which opens up space in the offensive zone for creative players such as Nick Suzuki. This is a style that would fit in well in a role as his winger. But Heineman is a player that will be of more benefit lower in the lineup on an exploitation scoring line that matches up with an opponent’s middle-six forward lines.
What to Expect From the Newest Canadien
Habs fans can look forward to watching a hard-working, two-way winger for the remainder of this season in Laval as Heineman can certainly score in many different ways using his speed and skill, which fits the style of play that Hughes wants to instill in the Canadiens’ organization.
So far this season, the Canadiens’ newest addition, who just turned 20 last November, scored 11 goals and 16 points in 37 games this season, leaving him 51st in Swedish Hockey League (SHL) goals scored. Young players his age in the SHL aren’t normally given much ice time, so while those stats don’t seem very strong, he is third in goals scored for players 20 years of age and under behind Elmer Soderblom and Noel Gunler, both of whom each played 52 games, 17 more than Heineman this season.
But his game is more than just speed and scoring. He brings a nasty, physical edge to the backcheck and in 1-on-1 puck battles along the boards. He’s capable of playing well without the puck defensively as well, playing a determined defensive style. He is able to assist in defending up high in the zone, provide an outlet for a breakout, and can play a strong transition game by winning puck battles, using his passing vision and his speed to carry the puck up ice.
There is no guarantee about the level of NHL impact a prospect will have when projecting their potential, but Heineman brings an intriguing combination of size, speed, and skill to the Habs’ system. What is most likely going to earn him an NHL role in the coming seasons will be his physicality and work ethic. He projects as a middle-six, two-way winger who can complement skilled players higher in the lineup as well.
Heineman’s arrival in Laval is a good sign. It will provide him with some experience with North American professional hockey that he can build upon. Using this he can prepare for next season and take some time to mature in the AHL, much like Jesse Ylonen required.
There is no rush to graduate Heineman so the Canadiens’ new development plan can be patient and not skip any steps, allowing him to step into the NHL more prepared to take on his expected role.