Henrique invaluable contributor to New Jersey Devils post-season

By Andrew Knoll

Photo: Rookie center Adam Henrique has shown a knack for clutch scoring in the 2012 NHL playoffs. (Chris Williams/Icon SMI)

 

While Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have watched the playoffs on high-definition telecasts, one Calder Trophy finalist has lived them firsthand, helping push his team all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

A key contributor for the New Jersey Devils during the regular season, Adam Henrique has been held to only four goals in 22 post-season matches. But oh how those goals have mattered. Henrique scored two goals in Game 7 of the first round against the Panthers, including the game-winner in overtime. He followed that up with the OT winner that clinched the Eastern Conference Final versus the Rangers. Most recently, he scored the late winning goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, preventing his team from being swept by the Los Angeles Kings.

"When you want to play at this level and want to be in the Final you have to have players like that," said teammate Petr Sykora. "Henrique has been there for us the whole playoffs and the whole season. He's that kind of player who will score some huge goals for us in this playoffs and hopefully he is going to score a couple more along the way."

Henrique has a winning pedigree, having captured back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires. Windsor executive and former King Warren Rychel has lauded the two-way play of Henrique in addition to his knack for clutch scoring.

That type of praise has also come from his teammates at the NHL level, including the revered goaltender Martin Brodeur who has only played 181 more playoff games than the rookie Henrique.

"These playoffs, it's obvious the goals he has scored are important goals for this team," Brodeur said.

"It's pretty amazing to see at that young age to be able to come in and really be an impact the way that he is.  Even though he doesn't score all the time, he does a lot of good things on the ice."

Head coach Peter DeBoer has called Henrique "unflappable." He has shown his trust by playing Henrique in all situations and giving him critical shifts late in games.

Henrique said he has not placed too much emphasis on scoring or forcing his game, he just tries to get around the puck and make plays as they come to him.

"I just play. I'm not thinking about what's going to happen if I score, if I don't score.  I'm just a kid playing hockey, having some fun," Henrique said.

While he may be a kid, Henrique said he has not felt like a rookie since very early in the season. He said a late-season cup of coffee last year motivated to work hard over the summer. When injuries thrust him not only onto the roster but into a top-six spot, he was confident and prepared to succeed.

"He had a great season. He stepped into a great role that was not an easy role to play. He was a top-two centerman who played with Zach [Parise] and [Ilya Kovalchuk] for most of the season," veteran forward Patrik Elias said.

"He didn't have many letdowns or even ups and downs during the regular season. He just has that little confidence about him and about his game. He's going to be a big part of the future for this team."

Henrique smiled as he said that "playing with Zach and Kovy didn't hurt." He developed a close relationship and mutual esteem with Parise, the Devils' captain and a bit of a mentor to Henrique. Yet at times Henrique was actually the stabilizing presence on the line with two big-ticket, high-scoring veterans.

More recently, he has skated on the Devils' checking line, where he connected with David Clarkson for the game-winning goal that staved off elimination in Game 4 of the Final. Henrique said he was willing to accept any role in order to gain the trust of his coaches and teammates in as many situations as possible.

Henrique has established himself as a mainstay with the Devils. Their investment of a third-round pick has paid off famously as Henrique has become a player with uncommon maturity and versatility in just his first NHL season.

He has also become a fan favorite in Jersey, where the passionate, often misunderstood fan base has pushed vigorously behind their Devils in their first Final appearance since 2003.

"The first couple of times I saw people with Henrique jerseys, I was wondering if it was family or not," Henrique joked.  "That's a pretty good feeling as a young guy, seeing people buying your jerseys."

"I remember I was at the shop at the start of the year buying a couple things and I saw some of the guys' t-shirts on the way and I wondered, 'I wonder what I gotta to do to get one of mine up there.'"

Two series clinchers, a huge goal to save the team's campaign, outstanding two-way play and a Calder nomination will do the trick every time.