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ILWT Top 25 Devils Under 25: #1 - Adam Henrique

Forward Adam Henrique was one of the best rookies in the entire NHL in 2011-12 and arguably the best rookie season by a New Jersey Devil since Scott Gomez. Therefore, it should be no surprise he's ranked #1 on our Top 25 Devils Under 25 List.

"It's over!"; Adam Henrique's finest moment as a New Jersey far.
"It's over!"; Adam Henrique's finest moment as a New Jersey far.
Bruce Bennett

Adam Henrique tops our Top 25 Devils Under 25 List. I hinted that the top three players on the list were already NHL players in the post announcing Jacob Josefson as #3 on our list. It became really obvious when I wrote up Adam Larsson as #2 on our list. By process of elimination, Henrique's first on the list. As you'll see in our individual rankings, it was pretty close but it was also definitive. Half of us thought he was the best and the other half thought he was just behind Adam Larsson. Even if you rate upside more than other traits of these young players, you cannot deny the amazing season Henrique just had for the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12. And it's worth breaking down in order to highlight why he's #1.

#1 - Adam Henrique - C - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 194 lbs. - Age: 22 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL)

Devil Karen Nate Jerry Kevin Matt John
Adam Henrique 2 1 1 2 2 1

Henrique joined up with OHL powerhouse Windsor Spitfires as a 16 year old (his birthday is February 6, so he did turn 17 in the middle of it) and managed to establish himself as a contributor. OK, they weren't so much of a powerhouse in 2006-07; they were pretty awful. Still, Henrique did enough to finish third on the team in scoring. Windsor would improve in the following seasons thanks to players like Josh Bailey, Greg Nemisz, Ryan Ellis, and, of course, Taylor Hall. He didn't particularly sparkle in terms of production in 2007-08, but his two-way game turned enough heads to get picked by the Devils in the third round of the 2008 NHL Draft. Henrique kept improving. His production jumped in 2008-09 as Windsor beat up on the OHL, won the league championship, and then took the Memorial Cup. The Spitfires did it again in the following season with Henrique playing an even bigger role, enough to play on Canada's fourth line in the World Junior Championships. That may not seem like much, but for a player who didn't go through Hockey Canada's system when he was younger, it speaks volumes to how much he's improved that he got onto the roster as a 19-year old.

Henrique went professional and spent the majority of 2010-11 with Albany. There, he proved that he wasn't just the beneficiary of being on a stacked junior team. Henrique led the A-Devs in goals with 25 and finished just behind Matt Anderson in points with 50. Those numbers may not make one stand up and shout paeans about the player, but it did make more than a few people in New Jersey take notice. After all, Albany really needed all the offensive help they can get (Henrique and Anderson were the only two players to break 20 goals in 2010-11), so a rookie pro coming in and producing like that is enough to make him stand out. He got a call up for a game just to get a taste of the NHL.

He initially made the New Jersey roster in 2011-12, but he was limited in action in the first two games and was sent down to Albany. When Travis Zajac got injured, Henrique was brought back in and he made sure that he deserved to be in the NHL. Here's a laundry list of accomplishments from Henrique in 2011-12:

The summary of that giant list is that Henrique stepped in, earned his spot on the team, played in all situations as a rookie, and continued to contribute all the way through the playoffs at a high level compared to rookie peers. Henrique showed he was a speedy players with good hands, very good vision, and an excellent mind on the ice. His skillset allowed him to be an effective defender as well as an offensive player. His defensive skills were good enough such that the coaches were comfortable in giving him regular shifts on the league's most effective penalty kill in the regular season. His offensive skills were good enough to justify playing him alongside the team's top two scorers for most of the season. Henrique didn't simply ride Parise and Kovalchuk, though. The end of the season saw the return of Zajac and so Henrique was moved around throughout the playoffs - and he still managed to be a serious contributor on the team and make Devils history in the process.

Simply put, Henrique was not only far-and-away the best rookie on the team, but I'd say he had the best season among all rookies since Scott Gomez, the Devils' last Calder Trophy winner. Take his 51 points, for example. According to Hockey Reference (which uses February 1 as a cutoff for ages), Henrique's 2011-12 is only the 29th time a Devil aged 22 or younger scored 50 or more points. You'll notice most of that list has players accomplishing the deed multiple times; 18 individual players have done it at least once. Most of those 18 players weren't rookies when they hit that mark of 50 or more points, too. Only five did it in their rookie season: Paul Gardner (1976-77), Barry Beck (1977-78), Kirk Muller (1985-86), Scott Gomez (1999-2000), and Henrique. That's a short list and it's telling the prior member did it over a decade ago. Henrique's production is a special accomplishment in of itself, even if it's a bit more esoteric than, say, the number of defensemen who played for New Jersey before the age of 20.

If that wasn't enough, please recall that the Devils had a dearth of prospective top-six forwards in recent years. They've addressed their lack of quantity of forwards in the last draft, but there are only long shots currently in the system who could be a top-six NHL forward someday. Henrique's stellar rookie season has to be seen as a pleasant surprise for the organization as he's someone who can be used in a top role. He emerged to fill a organizational need.

The big question surrounding Henrique is whether he can keep up his level of production and contribution to the team in the future seasons. Those writers who didn't rank Henrique #1 (and most of the commenters to Larsson's post) noted that Larsson had the highest upside among everyone else on this list. He demonstrated that he's a capable NHL defenseman at such a young age, which belies his talent. As I said in Larsson's post, I think that's a reasonable point of view. Larsson could very well be a top defenseman, while Henrique might just be a good top-six forward. I don't doubt Larsson's upside; he is younger and so he's got ways to go to come close to meeting his ceiling.

However, results matter more than potential in my eyes. Henrique got them. He dazzled in such a way that it is very likely that the Devils will keep him in a top-six role. Like Josefson and Larsson, Henrique would absolutely be in the NHL if there was a season. Unlike them, he's got a big spot in the lineup set already whereas Josefson and Larsson will have to prove their spots to a degree. I really do think Larsson will be a great player and it wouldn't surprise me in the least that he should become #1 on this list some day. That day wasn't in mid-September when we did these rankings and it isn't now. Henrique accomplished more than just about everyone else on this list; ergo, he's at the top of Jerry's, Nate's, and my rankings. He ended up at the very top only by a little bit and I think that's just fine. It's a Top 25 Under 25 List - the word potential isn't in there.

That all said, there are some concerns for Henrique's future. I don't think he's going to match his point totals in his second season in the NHL. I wouldn't fret, though. Since we're looking at a shortened 2012-13 season at best, it's going to be difficult for most of the league to break the 50 point level. With Parise and Petr Sykora gone, he's going to be relied on to produce. We shall see whether he does or not. I can agree that he may not be a high-end scorer and he may not stay at center for long (he can play left wing as needed), but I don't think this is his peak. Henrique will grow as a player in the NHL and as he's used in all situations, I suspect he'll be able to shoot more and make more plays with experience. His usage will help drive that, of course, but he's going to be given opportunities to succeed. Henrique definitely did that in his rookie season; I doubt he's suddenly going to falter ever after.

With this extended entry, this completes our first ever Top 25 Devils Under 25 List. I want to personally thank Kevin, who made the suggestion to have this kind of project in addition to his rankings. I'd also like to personally thank Karen, Nate, Jerry, and Matt for their rankings. Of course, I want to thank you, the reader, for following along for the last two months. I was hoping we'd have a NHL season to discuss by now, but alas, it's not to be. Don't worry, the next few things I'm planning to write about won't be such large projects.

In any case, now that you know who's at the top of our list, I want to know what you think. Do you think Henrique is a worthy player for #1 on a Top 25 Devils Under 25 List? If so, why? If not, then why not? What about Henrique do you appreciate the most? What do you think the future has in store for Henrique? As Jerry asked two months ago, will he stay at center or will he slide to wing? Will he continue to play in all situations? Will he continue to produce? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Henrique and our list as a whole in the comments. Thank you for reading.