After losing in the first round for three consecutive years, the New Jersey Devils and their fans can find some springtime solace in knowing they have the freshly minted Ontario Hockey League playoff MVP in their system.
Adam Henrique is not going to be a savior for the Devils, but he’s the kind of player who will fit well into their system and provide offence.
Henrique notched 20 goals and five assists in the postseason this year as the Windsor Spitfires won their second-straight OHL title. In three playoff seasons, Henrique has tallied 30 goals and 17 assists in 44 games. This year, he was outscored by top prospect Taylor Hall, who had 35 points, but Henrique’s overall contributions to the Spitfires title run were the reason he got the nod. When you consider that Henrique only scored two goals in the first-round sweep of Erie, his totals are more impressive. In Windsor’s final 15 playoff games, Henrique scored a goal in 13 of them – including nine in the seven-game series against Kitchener in which the Spitfires stormed back from a 3-0 deficit.
Henrique, of Burford, Ont., is a smart, versatile player. He can score, is excellent at faceoffs, can kill penalties, and despite not being overly big (5’11, 190 pounds) he plays a physical game. That’s something that Windsor coach Bob Boughner has helped instill in Henrique’s game in four seasons with the OHL powerhouse.
Henrique arrived in Windsor out of the Brantford 99ers with the reputation as a two-way performer and looked like he was going to be a hot-shot scorer. The second-round pick in the 2006 OHL draft notched 23 goals as a 16-year-old and set expectations pretty high. His totals dipped the next year as Windsor added talent around Henrique and Boughner asked him to play a different role. Since then, it’s been a steady climb up for Henrique as he boosted his points-per-game average from 0.67 as a 17-year-old to 1.13 as an 18-year-old to 1.43 this pas season when he scored 38 goals and 77 points in 54 games.
Because of the step back during his draft year, Henrique slipped to the third round where he was taken 82nd overall by New Jersey. While you never want to judge a player on stats alone, especially a 19-year-old in his fourth year of major junior, Henrique is looking like a steal for the Devils. This is a good lesson to learn for those who think a player’s draft position is the ultimate guide for how good a player is. I like to look at a player’s development before and after being drafted because it gives you a better indication of their potential.
Henrique shows a knack for getting into open ice where he can use his quick shot to finish. He complements that with a willingness to go to the dirty areas where he can score in tight. He has enough skill and speed to beat a defender one-on-one, but has the hockey sense to know when to dish it off – there’s no tunnel vision with this kid.
Most importantly, though, there’s a will to win and an understanding of what it takes to get it done: courage and the ability to apply skill in tough situations. This is why the Devils should be excited about Henrique because he’ll help bring them some of the ingredients they’ve been missing.
The team that won three Stanley Cup championships in nine seasons between 1994-95 and 2002-03 has seemingly forgotten how to win in the postseason. Since their last Cup victory, they’ve failed to make it past the second round and have lost in the first round in three straight seasons – each time to a lower-seeded team.
Their defensive system has worked well in the regular season and they’ve posted 13 consecutive 40-win seasons. After the lockout, many thought the crackdown in obstruction and the emphasis on skill would open up the game and hurt New Jersey, but they’ve been able to maintain their regular season dominance. In the last three seasons they’ve had 46, 51 and 48 wins.
That’s all meaningless at playoff time, when a well-coached team can make adjustments to a certain style and figure out a way to win. That might be part of the Devils problem. Another possible reason for the early ousters may be an inability of some players to raise the intensity level because too many of them don’t understand what it takes to go all the way in the playoffs. Another problem might be that Martin Brodeur isn’t fresh in the playoffs after playing too many regular-season games. If you’ve been following Justin Goldman this week on Twitter, the goalie guru has been talking of the importance of goalies being fresh at this time of year.
A young kid isn’t going to come in and change the mentality of a room, especially with leaders like Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias and Colin White – all of whom have won Stanley Cup titles. You can be fairly certain, though, that the Devils will be eager to blend Henrique’s talents into the mix as they look to extend their regular season success into the playoffs – like they used to do with regularity.
Henrique shows good leadership traits and has served as an alternate captain with Windsor for the last two seasons – including their Memorial Cup win last year. He’s also been a member of a silver medalist world junior team (2010) and a gold medalist at the Canada Winter Games.
Surely, the Devils will need to add more than one player and do some other things, but Henrique and his winning background will be a great addition to the Devils in two years.