While Edmonton Oilers sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been getting all the buzz, and rightfully so; there are indeed other first year players who are also having a big impact on their respective NHL clubs. Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators and Luke Adam of the Buffalo Sabres started out looking like they would be the closest competition for Nugent-Hopkins in the Calder race but they have since been past by a certain New Jersey Devils rookie.
Enter Adam Henrique. The first-year pivot moved into second place in rookie scoring after a three point effort in the Devils 5-4 over the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. In 26 games this season, Henrique has amassed seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points while averaging 18 minutes of icetime per game. After getting the call up from Albany early in the year, Henrique has arguably been New Jersey’s best forward as he has been able to produce not only at even strength and on the power-play but on the penalty kill as well.
A native of Burford, Ontario, Henrique began the year with Albany where he played in three games with the club, but his play with New Jersey has made it a certainty that he will never have to play in the AHL ever again.
Upon his call up to the big club, the 21-year-old had to have felt like he won the lottery when he was immediately slotted as the center between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk on the Devils first line. The lines have been shifted around some throughout the season but for the most part Henrique has taken his shifts alongside those two superstars.
That is not to say that playing with two great players has been the main reason for his success because that is far from the truth. In fact, Henrique has outplayed both Parise and Kovalchuk to this point of the season as he not only leads them in points but is also a team-leading +3 on the season. Compare that to Parise’s -7 and Kovalchuk’s -11 and the proof that Henrique has excelled at both ends of the ice is right there on the table.
An instinctive two-way center, Henrique uses his high hockey IQ to play an effective game in all three zones. He has played with tremendous poise with and without the puck and has shown a knack for making the right pass at the right time. He has also proven to be very adept at knowing where to be on the ice with several of his goals coming in high-traffic areas around the crease.
The former Windsor Spitfires star has gone from a little known rookie to a player that the opposition is going to have to start game-planning around. No longer will teams have to put their focus solely on shutting down Parise, Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias; they will now have to be very aware when #14, a gifted young hockey player, is on the ice.