The San Jose Sharks traded defenseman Shawn Heins to the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 9 for a conditional draft pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
The 29-year old Heins was originally signed as a free agent Jan. 5, 1997, when the 6’4” 210-pound defenseman midway through the 1996-97 season while playing in his second season with the Mobile Mysticks of the East Coast Hockey League. Heins, perennially one of the Sharks’ fittest players in fitness testing, including winning this past fall’s fitness testing in training camp, went on to play for the Kansas City Blades of the now-defunct International Hockey League, where in his first season the Eganville, Ontario native was runner-up for the Longman Trophy as IHL Rookie of the Year. Heins also represented the Blades in the 1998 IHL All-Star Game, was the Blades’ Rookie of the Year, and was named an Honorable Mention IHL All-Star at the end of the season.
Heins started the 98-99 season with the now-defunct Canadian National Team, which created a little fame for Heins. The Canadian National Team played against the United Hockey League All-Star team in the 1999 UHL All-Star Game. In the preceding Skills Competition, Heins won the Fastest Skater competition with a time around the rink of 13.984 seconds. In the Hardest Shot competition Heins was able to crank a 106 mph blast to win that competition, which has never been matched any other “Skills Competition” at any level. Heins finished 98-99 playing 18 games for the Kentucky Thoroughblades of the American Hockey League and also a five-game cup of coffee with San Jose.
The 99-00 season marked Heins’ last full-season of minor league action, once again with the T-Blades. Heins was named an AHL First Team All-Star, rewarded for his 63 points in 69 games, showing Heins was an offensive force from the blueline in the AHL, but also a physical force, which helped lead to his 238 penalty minutes.
Lost Prospect Impact
Heins played 81 games for the Sharks over five seasons, often finding himself as a healthy scratch, but as somewhat reliable depth that could provide a hard shot from the point on the power play and also a little physicality and fisticuffs. Despite Heins’ ability to circle a rink quickly, his agility has always been below-average for NHL defenseman/players. Heins’ decision-making may also have been/be a tad slow to be a top-six defenseman in the NHL. That said, Pittsburgh is gaining a good depth defenseman who should add as an example of off-ice work ethic for fellow Penguins.
The development of Jim Fahey helped make Heins expendable, but the likely additions of Christian Ehrhoff and Doug Murray to the Sharks’ professional system next season also did not bode well for Heins making the “big club.” That said, had Heins been assigned to Cleveland (clearing waivers either through the Waiver Draft or through waivers otherwise) he would have added a huge amount of stability to the Barons’ roster, which could use some leadership. Heins’ proven AHL-level play would definitely have helped the Barons turn things around, after two largely unsuccessful seasons. Prospects like Ehrhoff, Murray, Tero Määttä (if brought over next season), and David Cloutier would definitely have benefitted, and it would have helped the already stabilizing forces of Jesse Fibiger and John Jakopin, as well as assistant captain Matt Carkner.
Heins has been known to say that conditioning helped get him into pro hockey and move his way on up. Heins played two seasons in the OHL, but played his final two seasons of junior hockey with Renfrew of the Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey League, putting up 40 goals 90 assists and 175 penalty minutes in 49 games in his final season in the EOJHL.
Of all of San Jose’s prospects, Määttä would likely have benefitted the most from any potential Heins-presence. Määttä’s agility isn’t too good, and unlike Heins, he doesn’t have a big shot or even Heins stickhandling, but Määttä does have a genuine joy for the game and Heins off-ice work ethic could easily have been applied towards mentoring Määttä, giving Määttä the conditioning he’d need. The proper weightlifting, plyometric, and cardiovascular regiment could do Määttä good, and Heins is a player that can talk to any other professional hockey player about fitness pointers, hard work, and determination.
The fact Heins was dealt, may mean that Fahey will be the Sharks’ seventh defenseman the rest of the season, meaning Bryan Marchment, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, may not be moved. John Jakopin, a potential seventh defenseman replacement if Marchment were traded, moving Fahey back into the top six, has suffered from concussion problems this season. Another possibility as seventh defenseman if Marchment is still traded away and Jakopin can’t regain his health, is Jesse Fibiger, who was picked by Team Canada to represent don the red and white in the Swiss Cup. Fibiger has received long looks in both of his training camps with San Jose. (This training camp was thanks in large part to his strong showing in 2001, rather than any strong play in September in 2002.) Would the Sharks acquire a stop-gap seventh defenseman in return for a package involving Marchment? It wouldn’t make any sense to alter the chemistry so much to just trade Heins for the sake of it if he could later become the 7th defenseman and play in Cleveland next season.
So, good luck to Heins, for the better he does, the more San Jose will receive in the upcoming draft.