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Henrique Struggling Mightily with Possession

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Are the Devils bad in possession? Yes, atrocious actually. Does the blame for this fall on any one player in particular? Of course not, most players are culpable. Should the team’s core players be good at it? You would hope so. Is Henrique a core player? Yes. Is he good at possession? No.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

When anyone thinks of the main ingredients for the New Jersey Devils roster both currently and into the future, one of the first names that will come up after Taylor Hall is Adam Henrique. Since his excellent rookie season where he was a Calder finalist, he has grown to the point where he is now considered a team leader and integral part of the franchise as it hopefully pulls itself out of this awful state of losing.

This season and especially recently, however, his ability to drive play forward while playing in the top 6 has been nonexistent. This is contrary to what he did earlier in his career. During the 2011-12 season, he had a 51.9% Fenwick on a Devils team that had a 50.4% Fenwick overall. His possession improved after that as well, with an incredible 56.5% Fenwick in 2012-13, above the Devils’ league-leading 55.7% Fenwick. While he cooled off the following year to a degree, he still had a very quality 52.3% Fenwick on a Devils team that was at 53.6%. After that, however, much like the Devils, Henrique’s possession capabilities fell off a cliff. A cliff at the Grand Canyon. One of the higher ones.

Over the last three seasons, his Fenwick percentages have been as follows, in chronological order: 46.0%, 46.2%, 45.2%. All of those numbers are lower than the team average, giving him a negative relative Fenwick in each of those years. So it has not been like he has been dragged down by a poor possession team around him. If you want to use the relative stat to prove that, he has actually been helping to drag this Devils’ possession game down even further, not vice versa.

For those who may be skeptical at that, and I was at first too, let’s use a great case study. Taylor Hall has been one of the two players on the entire New Jersey roster this season who has consistently been a strong possession player. He currently sits at 2nd best on the team with a 52.2% Corsi, behind only Beau Bennett, who I discussed a little while back about being a quality depth player because of his ability to drive play forward on a team that can’t do it. Only two others are currently above 50% in Corsi, and both are under 51%, so really it’s just been Hall and Bennett who have been dominant possession players. Taylor Hall’s WOWY numbers showcase this even further. When Hall and Travis Zajac are together: 55.9% Corsi. Hall and Kyle Palmieri: 52.4%. Hall and Michael Cammalleri: 53.6%. But Hall and Henrique? 48.3% Corsi. That’s a considerable difference. Those are supposed to be the current legit top 6 forwards on this team right? Hall, Zajac, Cammalleri, Palmieri, Henrique. It is clear which one of those numbers is not like the others, and looking at both of the individual players, it is clear that the blame has to fall on Henrique, not Hall.

I mean even against Colorado on Thursday night, a game in which the Devils out-possessed the Avalanche by around 54%-46%, Henrique was still a negative possession player, with a 45.83% Corsi and an ugly looking -11.09% relative Corsi. Yes his linemates are not similar to the Hall-Zajac-Palmieri line, but Miles Wood and Devante Smith-Pelly are not the worst that the Devils are currently throwing out on the ice right now. Yet I would definitely say that the line of Joseph Blandisi, Stefan Noesen, and Beau Bennett was much more noticeable in a positive way. Those guys actually dominated in possession against Colorado, each of them posting over a 70% Corsi. That is not good for Henrique.

Does this mean that he should no longer be considered a team leader and anchor moving forward? I would not go that far. He still is a top 6 forward despite this. Remember, only a few short years ago he was a dominant possession player, and posted positive relative possession numbers on excellent possession teams. And despite having a poor possession year last year, he was a 30 goal scorer, which is nothing to scoff at, especially on this team. I would venture a guess that once this team starts to become not atrocious, and perhaps becomes a neutral or even positive possession team, his numbers will bounce back.

The reason that I mention this, however, is just because of how bad his possession numbers seemingly are, and have been for a couple years now. Just because someone is a leader on this team, and someone the team will build around for the future, it does not mean that we shouldn’t point out their flaws. It could be that Henrique needs quality linemates who are good in possession to really help him tilt the ice against the opposition. When the team turns to him to lead the way in possession, however, he proves incapable. That is an important tidbit of information. As Ray Shero and Co. look to build this roster in a positive manner, they need to look for wingers that will complement Henrique. Those wingers need to be good possession players who can help Henrique in this regard, as opposed to finding sniper types who regularly come out on the negative side of 50% possession. Henrique will work well with the former type in tilting the ice the right way, but will not be able to lift up the latter type to a positive differential.

For the sake of this team moving forward, let’s hope that Henrique can get back to his great possession numbers from his first three years here, and not continue like he has in his last three. The sooner that happens, the sooner this team can perhaps improve a little more.