Perhaps rightfully so, Adam Henrique did not win an award this year in AATJ’s season awards. He was not very offensive, was not as defensively sound as he normally was, and was outvoted by Travis Zajac on being the most versatile 8-2. For those of us who watched him play all year, that makes valid sense. His play from previous seasons certainly fell to a degree. He posted less than a half point per game at 40 points in 82 games, had the third worst +/- on the team with an atrocious -20, had a negative relative Corsi on a miserable possession team with a -1.5% relative Corsi, and finally he had a 46.9% CF overall, which ranked 10th amongst forwards on the team. It was a down year for him on a team going the wrong way, so why would he deserve any awards from us?
However, I was actually one of the two people who voted for him to win the most versatile award. Despite the numbers above, I felt that he was shortchanged in several ways by the coaching staff which in part led to his down year, and that in fact he was better than what can be seen on the surface. While there is not a plethora of underlying numbers I can use to support my claim, we can look at how he was used versus some of the other guys, and why he was thrown in the deep end by this coaching staff instead of being given a real chance to thrive like some other players.
First, as John quoted me writing in the award post, he was basically never given true top 6 linemates to work with for the entire season. Travis Zajac, who won the most versatile award, played a large majority of the season on a static line with the two best offensive forwards on the team, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. They were out on the ice for 10.64% of the entire season for New Jersey, while no other line was out there for more than 5% of NJ’s total ice time. Henrique, however, was out there with Hall and PA Parenteau for 3.16% of the time, Palmieri and Michael Cammalleri for 2.48% of the time, Cammalleri and Miles Wood for 2.38% of the time, and Beau Bennett and Joseph Blandisi for 1.44% of the time.
To further illustrate this, here are the forwards that Henrique played at least 100 minutes with this season: Michael Cammalleri, Kyle Palmieri, PA Parenteau, Beau Bennett, Miles Wood, Taylor Hall, and Pavel Zacha. 7 forwards. Here are the forwards that Henrique played at least 300 minutes with: …………….none. To compare, here are the forwards that Zajac played at least 100 minutes with this season: Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, Michael Cammalleri, PA Parenteau. Only 4 forwards. Furthermore, want to know how many minutes he played with Hall? 642. Palmieri? 649. There’s your difference.
While John Hynes and Co. eventually settled on a top line and let it ride, they clearly never settled on a second line for Adam. They tried these two guys for a little, then switched someone out, then switched someone else out, and on and on. At the end of the season, he was even playing at wing instead of center as they wanted to try even more unique combinations. While sometimes a mix-up is important to create something fresh when the status quo becomes stale, we never had a chance to see if Henrique’s linemates at any given point were compatible with him or not. They were just shuffled in and out, preventing any form of chemistry to develop.
Now, I understand the counter argument to this. If Henrique is supposed to be a cornerstone guy for this organization, one that CJ argues is still the safest jersey buy on this team (and I agree with him), then he needs to be a positive producer almost regardless of who he is playing with. I get that logic to a degree; however, I still feel that it is somewhat unfair to put all of the blame on him. If Hynes decided to put Henrique on the top line with Hall and Palmieri for most of the season, and moved Zajac around with a bunch of different forwards, there is almost no doubt that Henrique would have had a considerably better season while Zajac would have had a worse season. If that were the case, I bet that Henrique probably would have ended up winning our most versatile award despite being less versatile in terms of whom he was playing with night in and night out.
Here are a few numbers to potentially back up that thought, looking at that WOWY page I linked to earlier. When he was on the ice with Palmieri, they had a 66.7% goals for percentage and a 47.7% Corsi. When he was with Cammalleri, they had a 55% goals for percentage and a 48.4% Corsi. Perhaps his best numbers are with Beau Bennett, the possession king of the 2016-17 Devils. When together, they had a 55.6% goals for percentage and a 55.4% Corsi. Yet they only played together for 228 minutes. With Hall, they only had a 43.5% goals for percentage, but they did have a 49.6% Corsi, well above team average. So when he was with competent, top 6 players, his numbers improve enough to make you think that if he were give static top 6 players to play with, his season would have been improved, perhaps significantly so.
In the end, of course, we will never know if this would have been true or not. Perhaps Henrique just had a down year because he himself was not great. Had he played with Hall and Palmieri all year, had he been given static top 6 linemates, perhaps he would have still performed poorly. I mean hey, Hynes and Co. decided to put Zajac on the top line, not Henrique, and there had to have been a logical reason for it. Perhaps the reason was the poor play they were seeing out of him in practice and during games. However, today I just wanted to make the argument that there were other, mitigating circumstances that played a role in his down year. Despite clearly being a top 6 player, he was not given consistent top 6 linemates to play with. And when he was out there with skaters you would consider as top 6 guys or at least top 9 guys, his numbers do look better.
As I noted in the awards, you could still spin his season somewhat positively. Apart from that top line of Hall, Palmieri and Zajac, no one else had more goals or more points on the Devils than Henrique. That has to account for something. Hopefully next year, Ray Shero and the organization can find him consistent, positive top 6 producers to play alongside. Then, just let them go to work together and then let’s see what Henrique is capable of. If that happens, not only do I think that he wins our most versatile award next year, but he could easily win most improved and best defensive forward as well. So yes, go get his jersey, CJ is right.