At the start of the 2011-12 season, he was bouncing in and out of the lineup as a rookie. Roughly two years later, the 6-foot-4, 196-pounder has made a name for himself as one of the top shutdown blueliners in the Western Hockey League.
“I really used my time in the stands as a healthy scratch to my advantage,” said Heatherington, who scored four goals and 27 points in 71 games this year. “I watched what players did and how they positioned themselves. I think that really helped me to improve on things in my game to get back into the lineup.”
Playing alongside New Jersey Devils prospect Reece Scarlett also helped his development curve spike.
“I learned a lot from Reece,” said Heatherington. “He’s such a good player that I learned a lot from watching him play and how he handles situations on the ice. He has also helped me focus on defence since he has really carried our offensive defenceman role. He’s great at jumping in on the play and keeping the puck in the offensive zone.”
Heatherington’s huge steps forward on the ice have translated to his draft stock. He went from being considered a top-90 pick at the end of last year to NHL Central Scouting Service’s 31st ranked North American skater in their final projection.
“If you told me I’d be ranked that high (31st) last year, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “I couldn’t have imagined it back then. But I think not focusing on my ranking that much has helped me. I just kept working hard and that work has paid off.”
Heatherington is just one of four Calgary, Alta., natives that could have his name called in the first round of the 2013 NHL entry draft. Joining him in the Cowtown draft spotlight are Medicine Hat Tigers captain Hunter Shinkaruk, Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Josh Morrissey, and Regina Pats centre Morgan Kilmchuk.
“It’s really cool to see a bunch of us from Calgary getting attention for the draft,” said Heatherington. “I played with or against all three of them when I was younger. I remember thinking ‘wow this guy is really good’ back then. But I never could have imagined all of us getting this much draft attention.”
The 18-year-old also laced up the skates with Broncos teammate and Calgary Flames prospect Coda Gordon early in his childhood.
“We played together on the same minor hockey team when I was about 10-years-old or so in Calgary,” said Heatherington. “We’ve talked about how it’s crazy that we ended up playing on the same WHL team together. Neither of us could ever have imagined it, but it’s really cool how it worked out.”
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I’m a shutdown defenceman. I try to keep it simple and make it hard for players to stand around the front of the net and along the boards.”
2. Do you try to emulate a defenceman in the NHL?
“I really like how (Los Angeles Kings defenceman) Robyn Regehr plays. I watched him when I was living in Calgary and he was playing for the Flames. I really like his work ethic and how he makes a big difference on the penalty kill. He’s definitely a player I want to be like.”
3. Who is your favourite NHL team?
“The Calgary Flames. I’d say the Flames just because I grew up watching them. I really liked watching guys like Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester, and Mark Giordano. Those guys kind of made me a Flames fan. I always cheered for them.”
4. What was it like moving from Calgary, a city of over a million people, to Swift Current, a city of roughly 15,000?
“I like living in Swift Current. It’s small enough that you can easily just drive to your friend’s house and you’ll be there right away. It’s not like in Calgary when it could take 30 minutes or longer. I think it’s nice to have a balance between Swift Current and Calgary. I get to live the city life when I’m home and I get the small town life when I’m in Swift (Current).”
5. What is your favourite movie?
“I would say Forrest Gump. I just think it’s a great story. I watched it a lot when I was a kid and I still like it.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen