When Tyler Toffoli was traded to the Calgary Flames in February, one of the parts coming back to the Montreal Canadiens was Emil Heineman, a 20-year-old Swedish forward who plays for Leksands IF in the SHL. Interestingly enough, the second-round selection from the 2020 NHL Draft had already been traded in his career, from the Florida Panthers to Calgary as part of the Sam Bennett trade.
In the immediate aftermath of the trade to Montreal, many tried to figure out what Heineman’s skills were and what he provided for Montreal. He was immediately seen by some as a replacement for Artturi Lehkonen, but that comparison will always leave Heineman wanting, as Lehkonen’s hockey sense is a few notches higher.
Last year was the Swedish winger’s first real pro season, and he posted 22 points (15G, 7A) in 56 games when combining SHL and Champions Hockey League matches.
The season finished on a sour note on the ice for Heineman. His team lost early in the playoffs, and he sustained an injury and could not partake in the final games. He did go over to Montreal in order to play with the Laval Rocket, however the injury lingered and in the end he left without playing a game in the AHL.
He signed a three-year extension with Leksand the day before Christmas, 2021, and that means that even if he is signed by Montreal he will not be able to go to AHL if he doesn’t stick with the NHL team. Leksand has right of first refusal, and the team is counting on him for the upcoming season.
The community is higher on Heineman that just about everyone on the staff, placing him in the top 20 with their ballots. The writers take a more cautious approach to the young Swede, many having him in the Top 25 as one of the last prospects to make the cut.
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The most readily apparent sill to anyone who see Heineman play is his shot. He can whip it from almost anywhere on the ice and the sheer power that he generates on the puck can cause any goalie problems, at any level. The shot comes naturally, both with his wrist shot and his slapshot. The windup is fast and the accuracy is on point, and the speed that he generates means that he can shoot through defenders, using them as screens.
While it doesn’t show in the stats, he also uses the shot as a setup for a pass, creating even more problems for the defence as they don’t know what the play will be.
He also has a powerful and technically strong stride that generates a lot of power and pace. His edge-work benefits him as he can accelerate past defenders. His lower-body strength gives him a lower centre of gravity, helping with his balance and strength along the boards.
Heineman lacks in the defensive aspect of the game. He over-commits and overworks, and when he is lost he tries to rectify his mistake by chasing and generally ends up out of position. It could be that his skating and size advantage during development allowed him to cover the situations either way, but at the professional level it is a glaring problem.
I would say it is not that he doesn’t want to play defence. He is not a player like Dale Weise who often started the counter-attack before his team ha possession and cheated in his defensive work. Heineman wants to be effective in his own zone — the hard work is enough evidence of that — he just doesn’t read situations well enough and when behind tries to solve it with a desperate effort, causing even more problems.
This is where he will need to focus his work this year. Leksand coach Björn Hellkvist tells us that it is easier to teach defence than offence, and now it is up to the coach to put the proof on the table.
A more appropriate comparison then can be made to Mr. Hellkvist’s former player, Victor Olofsson. Both players have very good shots, though whereas Olofsson’s shot is technical, Heineman’s is based on pure power. Both skate well but have the same deficiencies in the defensive aspects of the game.
With a shot and skating like Heineman possesses, you have a good chance of making the NHL. You might even get more than one chance to break into the league because of that combination. These attributes are what make him shine, and I can see him in a scoring role down the road, with his absolute ceiling being similar to Olofsson’s as well. The fact is it took Olofsson five seasons to get to the big show, and seeing Heineman even next year on an NHL line doesn’t seem likely.
Mr. Hellkvist was bullish on the player, but also very frank. “Either he will make it on a secondary scoring unit in the NHL, and if he doesn’t make that role he shouldn’t become a defensive player; then he won’t have made it. It is as simple as that. He should play to his strengths. The coach should use his assets.”
Does Montreal or Laval have that coach, and will that role be there to fill when the time comes? If Heineman hits, he will hit well, but if he doesn’t, he won’t make the NHL, and this could be why the staff has a more conservative approach to his ranking this year than the community as a whole.