‘Devils in the Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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Within a matter of days, the New Jersey Devils should reward 23-year-old restricted free agent Adam Henrique with a fresh, long-term contract.
After losing Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson in the matter of two offseasons, it’s imperative for Henrique to take his promising talents to the next level.
Henrique enjoyed a breakout season as a rookie, totaling 51 points in 74 games. His whole-hearted two-way play earned him comparisons to a young Parise, and Calder Trophy consideration.
Henrique displayed a flair for notching dramatic, game-winning playoff goals — mostly notably eliminating the Florida Panthers in double-overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and propelling the Devils past the rival Rangers in an emotion-filled conference finals Game 6 and into the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
His No. 14 became the top selling jersey and T-shirt around the concourses at Prudential Center. He gained an army of shrieking girls, thanks to his clutch play and boyish good looks.
Expectations were high for Henrique once the bitter 2012-13 lockout ended in January. The shortened season wasn’t kind to Henrique. His production dropped off to just 16 points in 42 games and his play turned inconsistent as the Devils fell short of reaching their playoff goal.
With so many talented players opting to turn their backs on the Devils, it’s absolutely necessary that Henrique’s sophomore slump doesn’t carry into next season.
At some point, this will need to become Henrique’s team in the way that it became Parise’s before the former Devils captain pulled on a Minnesota Wild sweater.
Thirty-seven-year-old alternate captain Patrik Elias has continued to defy age, and legendary 41-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur could have his workload cut significantly by the presence of prime-aged Cory Schneider. Captain Bryce Salvador is as steady as there is in the defensive zone — but he’s also 37.
HENRIQUE WILL BECOME THE NEXT FACE OF THE DEVILS
Out of the three key veterans, Elias will survive the longest as he recently agreed to a three-year contract. Elias is ultimate supporting cast member and repeatedly turned down the opportunity to become primary captain. Salvador will turn 38 in February and it’s hard to say whether he will play beyond the remaining two years left on his contract. What the Devils need is a player to become the face of the franchise as the clock ticks down in the twilight of Brodeur’s remarkable career.
That man will be Henrique, who possesses all the hallmarks of a captain in waiting. He’s a very mature character for a 23-year-old and leads by example. Henrique is comfortable with the media and represents everything that the Devils are about — a talented, relentless two-way player brought through the pipeline who represents the franchise in a positive way.
There will be a significant amount of pressure on Henrique’s shoulders to deliver in 2013-14. His work ethic, growing talent and mature personality leads one to believe that he can be the man to lead the Devils.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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