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Henrique is the Devils’ Most Important Player So Far

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Multiple injuries to centers and a roster full of inexperienced players has made Adam Henrique extremely important. He has met that challenge thus far in the season.

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Yesterday, Devils radio announcer, Matt Loughlin, tweeted a quote from John Hynes about Adam Henrique and how “when we do our team videos of how we want to play, he’s in almost every clip.”

I’ve been a Henrique fan since his rookie year. I was at the “Henrique, It’s Over!” game. He’s one of only 3 jerseys I own, along with Brodeur and Turtoro (...yeah, I’m vain, leave me alone). He’s great on social media and in person. So in the recent rash of Henrique trade rumors this offseason, I became irked. To see Hynes endorse Rico so wholly was a welome sight for me. I decided to go at a Henrique critic via Twitter.

I was referring to John’s article in the offseason on Henrique. In the interest of full disclosure, he also wrote a positive one the day before, and criticized my mischaracterization of his stance. He requested I know more words. I politely and graciously accepted ...

Twitter feuds notwithstanding, John obviously had a point in that our center position was getting quite congested. Zacha had a great preseason, Zajac has a longer contract, more expensive contract with a NTC and has performed just as well if not better than Rico, and Nico is a #1 overall pick, likely being groomed for the 1C spot if he’s not already there. Obviously I was just trolling John, but I genuinely do believe that moving Henrique would be a mistake and I think this season’s given us a good taste of why. In the rest of this article. I’m going to go over just a few of the reasons he has been the most important Devil so far.

Faceoffs

Last year, the Devils had a faceoff percentage of 49.2% — or 18th in the NHL. Remove Zajac’s 1,613 faceoffs at 54.2% and we plummet to 46.6% as a team which would be worst in the NHL. We also had Fiddler log 470 faceoffs at 52.6%. Without him we fall to 45.6%. These calculations are legitimates concerning, because Zajac was supposed to resume his role, and Brian Boyle was supposed to take over for Fiddler. So without those players, we were the worst NHL team in the circle on paper. So what’s actually happened this year?

We’re exactly the same. (this link said 49.2 as of the writing of this article... likely won’t after the Tampa game, but it did at one point and so give me credit for the symmetry of the argument).

How has that happened? Well it’s definitely not the rookies. Zacha’s been fine - basically 50%. Nico has been dreadful with a 36.2%. Coleman is the only other frequent man at the dot and he’s got a 46.8%. I’ve been telegraphing this point for two full paragraphs now so let me just cut to the chase...it’s Adam Henrique.

Henrique is at 54.2% as of this writing and he has taken 31% of the draws. Reminder Zajac was 54.2% and took 32% of the draws in 2016-17. Rico’s career faceoff percentage is 47.3 so why is this happening? My hope is that the recent increased enforcement of rules in the circle are benefiting him. But, regardless, he’s kept the Devils’ head above water in Zajac/Boyle’s absence.

All-Purpose Man

Zajac and Henrique tag-teamed the PK last year as the first unit and they were both used on the PP regularly as well. Zajac led forwards in ice time on the team last year and that’s not easily replaced. To their credit, the Devils have not tried to do that. The forwards run deep on this team and all of the top 9 are playing 14 minutes per game or more.

But there is one that stands out. This player is on the 1st PP unit, the first PK unit (by far), and leads forwards in ice time by over a minute and a half (!). You guessed it — it’s Adam Henrique.

When the Devils were projecting Henrique to be a 3rd line center on opening day, I was actually not heartbroken about it. The reasons for that were 1) I new Rico would be Rico regardless, but the rookies might need a jump start, 2) I new he’d be run into the ground in special teams. That’s turned out to be right on the money. We’ve had one of the best PPs in the NHL and the PK suffered due to the 3-in-5 the ridiculous Capitals PP unit put up on us. Without that we’d be tied for 10th. And Henrique has been integral to both units. Furthermore, before his admittedly careless penalty in OT last night, he hadn’t been called for a penalty all year, despite all that ice time in tough situations.

Production

As of this writing, Henrique just recorded his 6th point (2G, 4A). Only one was a secondary assist and so that is mostly earned. According to Corsica, Henrique’s Game Score is among the best on the team. He’ll likely pass Bratt soon, and I don’t know exactly when Gibbons will stop scoring, but the answer to that can’t be “never.” By years end, the only player I’m comfortable saying will be over Henrique is Hall.

He’s also been uncharacteristically good in possession. He struggled against Stamkos and Kucherov last night, but who doesn’t. Before that he had a positive relative Corsi despite an absurd 73% defensive zone start rate.

According to Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones Data, Henrique was 4th on the team in setup passes (behind Hall, Severson, Zajac) and was effective in the only game tracked so far this season (Colorado). He had 8 setup passes which was tied with Hall and Johansson for 4th behind Severson, Hischer, and Butcher.

Conclusion

Henrique may not keep up all of this. His production should improve from prior years with better linemates, but he won’t keep up the point-per-game pace. The faceoffs may come down to earth if the early season success was a fluke rather than a consequence of officiating tendency changes. His possession may go down, and it will definitely get complicated at minimum due to his usage. In fact many of these took a hit from his lackluster performance 5v5 in the Tampa game.

But he is on the ice more than any other forward. He is the only player on the team with the wide array of skills he has. He PKs, he PPs, he centers, he produces points via shots and passes, and he leads by example.

If the Devils are going to make it through the Zajac injury and remain in contention, Henrique is going to be a big reason why.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about Henrique so far? What do you think about him long term? Do you think that he’s been very good, or do you think the teams performance is all about the young guys and Henrique’s been hanging on their coattails?

Thanks for reading and leave your thoughts below!