Commentary

Henrique coming of age in playoffs

Rookie earns coach's trust, delivering for Devils in high-pressure situations

Updated: May 19, 2012, 1:10 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEWARK, N.J. -- Thirty-five seconds into his first shift of his first NHL playoff game, Devils rookie Adam Henrique laid a big hit on Florida's Marco Sturm, dumping Sturm over the Panthers' bench. Moments later, he found himself entangled in a scuffle with veteran John Madden along the boards.

The message from the ex-Devil to the 22-year-old? Welcome to the playoffs, kid.

"You could tell right away it was more intense, a different level," Henrique said, recalling the scrape. "I was a little nervous, but I kind of settled down after that and realized: This is playoff hockey now."

[+] EnlargeAdam Henrique
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesRookie Adam Henrique is showing the poise of a veteran as the Devils battle for the Cup.

Clearly, it didn't take him long to adjust.

Henrique tallied two goals -- including the game-winner in double overtime -- in Game 7 of the quarterfinals against the Panthers and has recorded eight points overall this postseason. Henrique has three assists in the past three games for the Devils -- his most recent set up David Clarkson's clincher in Game 2 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday -- and has been utilized in some of the most nerve-fraying situations.

Henrique's youth and relative inexperience doesn't deter coach Peter DeBoer, who had him on the ice for the last 1:37 of play Wednesday with the Devils protecting a 3-2 lead.

"I don't even think about his age now," DeBoer said. "We're beyond that. He just gets the job done."

Unfazed when he was sent down to the American Hockey League at the beginning of the season and unaffected by centering two of the league's premier talents in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk once he was recalled, Henrique seemed similarly composed in the waning moments of the Devils' series-tying match in Game 2, stepping into the faceoff circle for a key defensive zone draw against veteran center Brad Richards with just 27 seconds left in regulation.

Amid a deafening din at MSG and facing a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Henrique won the vital faceoff, boosting his percentage to an impressive 59 as teammate Dainius Zubrus cleared the zone and the Devils held on for the win.

While Henrique joked that DeBoer was simply saddled with him after an icing call, the reality is that his coach has appraised his poise and rewarded him with important ice time.

"I think it comes down to hockey sense, and responsibility. He's a responsible player," said DeBoer. "He's won before [in junior hockey], which I think has put him in situations where he's had to play on the right side of the puck and put the puck in the right place and do the right thing. I think that those experiences have really quickened the learning curve at this level for me to be able to put him out there."

Even before his detour to the minors and before he found himself between the team's captain and its $100 million sniper not long after being recalled, DeBoer's trust was something Henrique was eager to earn.

"Right from the beginning of the year, I wanted to gain his trust. When I started playing with Zach and Kovy, I started finding myself in more and more situations like that," Henrique said.

"To be out there in the last minute, you gotta really bear down. Whoever is out there, he's gonna have the top guys out there and the guys he trusts. I don't know if he wanted me out there or not, but he was stuck with me," Henrique joked.

For all the confidence such steely resolve requires, Henrique doesn't "have a cocky bone in his body," according to Clarkson.

"Whether he has two goals the night before or none, he's always coming to the rink with a level head, that maturity," Clarkson said. "He knows how to handle the ups and downs."

In the midst of a deep postseason run, the Devils will rely on such calm under fire, sending him out there in big-game, big-pressure situations.

After all, nothing has seemed to faze him yet.

Said Clarkson:

"I don't think I've ever seen him rattled by anything."

Katie Strang covers the Rangers, Islanders and Devils for ESPNNewYork.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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