Just past the halfway point in the 2011-12 season, the Devils sit in a solid sixth place position in the Eastern Conference, with a respectable 50 points. New Jersey has benefitted from the stellar play of their penalty killing unit, which is ranked first in the NHL, at 90.4%. Additionally, Zach Parise has returned to form after missing most of last season with a knee injury, Patrik Elias has been superb, and David Clarkson has emerged as a bona fide scoring threat. However, it’s been the contributions of two rookies, Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson, that have been a big part of why the Devils have remained in the thick of the playoff race this season.
Larsson, the fourth overall pick in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, has stepped into his role and played like a veteran, rarely looking like the nineteen year old rookie that he is. Larsson is currently ranked third on the team, behind Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, in ice time per game, logging an impressive 21:41. With Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov all missing time this season, Larsson’s consistent play on the blue line has been crucial.
Henrique, New Jersey’s third round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is currently fourth on the team with 34 points (13/31). Perhaps more impressive than his offensive output is that the twenty one year old is also leading the team with a plus-9 rating. Henrique’s play has been a big reason why first-line center Travis Zajac’s injury issues have not been devastating to the team this season. He’s running neck-in-neck with Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the race for the Calder Trophy, and if his staunch play continues, he will be the first New Jersey Devil since Scott Gomez in 1999-00 to win the coveted award.
The emergence of Larsson and Henrique is no accident, as Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has a long and distinguished history of drafting and developing star players. With uncertainty about team captain Zach Parise’s status after this season, Henrique and Larsson’s development is more important than ever to the Devils organization.