I have not been impressed with Emil Heineman’s season, and the situation in general brings up questions about the Montreal Canadiens’ development of its European prospects. The case of Mattias Norlinder last year and Emil Heineman this year and the two standouts in this regard, two players who aren’t playing near the level you would expect.
The previous management group learned from the mistake with Sebastian Collberg and left most of its overseas prospects to develop within their home systems. It seems Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton didn’t take the same lesson from the situation they inherited last year with Norlinder. At the very least, when Heineman got injured ahead of the season, they sent him back to Sweden, rather than holding him on the roster as they had with Norlinder.
The most important thing the Canadiens need to keep in mind is that bringing over European players for rookie camp hampers a lot of their development unless the prospect is a shoo-in to make the team.
First, you lose about two weeks of training, just from travelling and jet lag in itself, as you aren’t back to full training until a week after you have returned to Europe. Second, the European team will look for a replacement to fill the player’s role on their team. This is because they won’t know for how long the player will be gone. This becomes especially important if the European team struggles while its star young player is gone.
All three players mentioned had lost roles on top power-play units, or even the spot on special teams altogether. Collberg’s spot was first lost to Andreas Johnsson, then to Artturi Lehkonen on the second unit. Norlinder lost his spot to Filip Johansson, and then Andreas Borgman. Heineman was shifted to a net-front presence for Leksand, not in a position to use his shot.
The way Hughes explained why Juraj Slafkofský and Kaiden Guhle wouldn’t be partaking in events following the NHL season (the World Championship and AHL post-season, respectively) in his recent press conference, should give him an understand of a European team’s frustration when their player comes back injured before the season even starts.
Kent Hughes basically rules out sending Juraj Slafkovsky to World Championships once he's healthy. Said they'll be risk averse with decisions like this and putting Guhle in AHL playoffs because of all the injuries this season.— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) March 3, 2023
The confidence loss from not making an NHL team, losing a spot on the special teams in Europe, struggling with injuries and not playing at all, is significant. Setbacks at this age can cause a domino effect of problems.
Again, the step that Montreal took to send Heineman back early to recover and rehabilitate in Sweden was something they learned from the Norlinder situation last season. Heineman’s situation was clearly handled much better.
The conclusion should be, if you can’t assign the player to the AHL, be happy they come over for development camp early in the summer and leave it at that. It is better for all involved: the player, the European team, and the Canadiens in the long run.