BUFFALO — It’s no secret that, among forwards, Emil Heinemann represents the player with the best chance to shuffle the deck in training camp for the Canadiens. Returning to the Junior Championship, the Swede is approaching the season with an open mind.
Last year, the winger was among the Habs’ hopes to excel at the event. He didn’t go back to Buffalo, he came there with bigger ambitions.
“I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it’s a perfect opportunity to get some momentum going into training camp. I knew it quickly so I was mentally prepared for it,” said Heinemann, who turns 22 in November and will be one of the oldest forwards on the delegation. Montreal.
“I also want to be more of a leader this year,” added the man who will play alongside Owen Beck and Joshua Roy in the first match.
A year ago, Heinemann arrived in Buffalo after playing seven games in Sweden. This time it didn’t happen, which made him even hungrier.
However, he sees this opportunity mainly as a first step to staying in Montreal.
“Of course, I’m aiming for a place. But I approach things with an open mind. I’ll focus on my game and see where it takes me,” replied Heinemann, sounding matter-of-fact and mature as a young man.
In the 2022-2023 season, Heinemann returned to play most of the season in Sweden and became accustomed to North American action by donning the Laval Rocket uniform 13 times (including 2 in the playoffs).
So the question remains whether he has internalized the nuances of this hockey game enough not to return to Laval.
“I think I’m used to the smaller rinks now. It was helpful playing in Laval, I learned a lot about how to play hockey here. I definitely have more experience,” commented the six-foot-tall, 202-pound shooter (eight pounds more than last year).
However, he realized that he was still far from reaching his peak and that his development required a more honed arsenal for the NHL game.
“I still find that I’m not the finished product, I’m still young and I’m still developing. I’m still learning how to play the right way here and trying to figure out how to get to the NHL,” he noted.
Rockets coach Jean-François Houle may have been in a better position to determine whether Heinemann understood the North American style.
“I found that he stood out in rookie camp last year and in Laval at the end of the season. But every player needs a little time in the American Hockey League, and that doesn’t hurt. It’s good for them, they have more ice and are playing in important positions,” Holley said. “All the players who pass through Laval will learn.”
Upon reflection, does Heineman feel he needs to play more games in the AHL?
“We’ll see, we have a training camp that includes a lot of matches. So… we’ll see,” he said, laughing, not wanting to get too wet.
The good news in his case is that his strengths lend themselves well to smaller rinks. Starting with his quick shot, and his ability to protect the puck near the boards.
Rookie tournament matches will allow us to get a better idea of him, but we shouldn’t forget that he should dominate against less experienced opposition in Buffalo.
“We saw, in the qualifiers, in Laval, that he has made good progress and that he can do even better,” said Houle, who expects to see him stand out thanks to his professional background in Europe.
Mentally, Heinemann is also calm about the idea of staying west of the Atlantic this year.
“Of course. It’s completely different when I know I’m going to stay in North America. I feel like it’s more realistic now.
When the Canadian acquired Heineman, he was sometimes compared to Artturi Lehkonen, because both players could play in a complete style. However, Heineman is definitely thinking more about the offensive side of his game while still wanting to be a reliable player.
Leaving Europe quickly, the best option?
Heinemann’s background may inspire a desire to determine the right approach to developing European players. The topic has become even more relevant with the addition of David Reinbacher to the club’s prediction bank.
Should European hopes then cross the ocean quickly?
“Um, it depends on each player. In my case, I’m a more complete player, I have a physical side to my game and I play live hockey. For me, it was good to come and play here to get used to it,” Heinemann said.
Hohle replied: “All players are different, and some of them need more time in Europe,” realizing that one recipe does not work.
And since Canadiens leaders have already mentioned that Reinbacher will likely return to Switzerland this year, he may feel less pressure.