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In what was a wild draft lottery, the Devils fortunes changed quite a bit this past Saturday night as they were awarded first overall pick in this June’s NHL Entry Draft. New Jersey is likely to end up with one of Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, the two best prospects in this year’s class. The Devils already have a logjam of centers and adding one of those two will just add to that growing list.
With that logjam will come some decisions. Michael McLeod is currently in the midst of a dominant postseason on Mississauga with 25 points in fifteen games and looks ready for a crack at the NHL. While far from a guarantee, there’s probably a good chance that Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier could be on the opening night roster. If New Jersey’s intent is to keep all these players, somebody will have to move out to the wing. One candidate who could move out wide is Adam Henrique, who John Hynes experimented with at left wing over the course of the final few games of this past season.
And there is good reason for Hynes’ experiment.
Over the course of the last three seasons, Adam Henrique’s underlying numbers have been pretty underwhelming. In terms of possession, Henrique’s 46.2% Corsi when on the ice is good for 346th in the league for forwards with 1000+ minutes at 5v5 since 2014. His relative Corsi is also a bit concerning and doesn’t strengthen Henrique’s case for staying at center. Over the last three seasons, his relative Corsi is -2.1 and puts him at 333rd for forwards with 1000+ minutes played at 5v5 since 2014. Long story short, that means the Devils possession numbers have been better with him off the ice than with him on the ice. For someone playing in a top-six role, you’d like someone who drives play at a better rate; granted Henrique has not had a lot of help the last few seasons.
Aside from Henrique’s below average possession numbers, his playmaking rates are not what you’d expect from someone who’s playing as a top-six center. Since 2014, Henrique has averaged 0.74 assists per 60 minutes, which is the same rate as Nail Yakupov and Justin Abdelkader. If you take it a step further, Henrique has averaged only 0.31 primary assists per 60 minutes, which is the same as Luke Glendening and Nick Spaling, both of whom play fourth line roles on their respective teams.
The takeaway from all this isn’t that Adam Henrique is a bad player. He’s consistently posts 40-50 points, and is one season removed from a 30-goal campaign. The idea I’m advocating is a permanent move for Henrique from center to left wing. In three of his last five seasons (2012-13, 2013-14, and 2015-16), Henrique has finished with more goals than assists with a margin as wide as 10 goals in 2015-16. He’s always had a knack for scoring goals and has a career shooting percentage of 15.4%, which shows he has a very effective shot.
While his playmaking abilities may not be at the levels you’d expect for a second line center, the main reason for the move out to wing would be his defensive game, which hasn’t been quite up to par over the last three seasons. Moving Henrique out wide would give him less defensive responsibility and allow him to focus more on an offensive role, which would benefit him and the Devils.
New Jersey has a logjam of centers and with the first overall pick, it’s likely they end up with one of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, both of whom project as centers in the NHL. Henrique would be a prime candidate to move out wide and he’d probably be pretty effective. John Hynes experimented with this positional shift over the final few games of the season, and I’d expect they give it a shot again in September. It may be in the best interest of the team and Henrique and could finally help him find the consistency in his game that the team has been searching for since he arrived in the NHL.