Burford’s Adam Henrique is not content to coast on his previous accomplishments.
Despite finishing his first NHL season as a finalist for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and playing the hero during the New Jersey Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, Henrique is approaching the current NHL campaign as if it were his first.
“I have to come back and show (the Devils) I belong,” Henrique said during an interview with Brant News before his season debut on Thursday. “I have to find my spot in the lineup and start playing where my game was at last year.”
Henrique re-joined the Devils on Thursday after beginning the season on the injured reserve list while he was recovering from surgery.
The 22-year-old, who celebrates his 23rd birthday on Wednesday, needed surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb after he injured it playing in the AHL during the lockout.
The injury happened during an innocuous play on Nov. 24 when the Albany Devils were playing a game in Atlantic City.
“I just put my hand up on another player to slow him up a bit and my thumb caught in a funny way,” Henrique said. “That was it. I knew right away that something was wrong. I had a tough time playing the rest of the game and moving my thumb.”
Henrique immediately had the injury looked at by doctors in New Jersey and an MRI revealed that he had torn the ligament.
“They said the best thing to do was to have the surgery and reattach it,” he said. “Time was on my side because of the lockout. I haven’t missed as much hockey as I would have.”
Despite the injury, his eligibility to play in the AHL made the NHL lockout less stressful for Henrique.
“There were three or four guys that all went down and played in the minors with me,” Henrique said. “It was nice to have a place and not have to worry about finding somewhere overseas to play hockey.
“And, obviously, I’d played there for a full year before, so I was comfortable going in.”
Henrique played in 16 games for the Albany Devils before the injury and had five goals and three assists.
Recovering from the injury was a learning experience for Henrique, as he had to deal with medical advice that made him literally “sit around.”
“I wasn’t allowed to sweat,” he said. “I had a pin inserted in the joint to take the stress off the ligament and for the full four weeks I had a cast on I had to sit around. I could maybe go for a little walk, but there is not much I could do otherwise.”
The sedentary recovery was a challenge for Henrique, who said he is used to working hard every single day.
“At least it wasn’t in the summer,” he said. “My teammate (Mark) Fayne had a similar kind of injury and had to deal with the heat in the summer. That’s tough when you aren’t allowed to break a sweat.”
Henrique began skating again about the same time the NHL returned from the lockout with an abbreviated 48-game schedule. He started shooting the puck and taking light contact about 10 days before his return to the lineup.
The lineup Henrique returns to is very different from last season.
Playing on the Devils’ first line with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk from November to January of the 2011-12 season, Henrique had 33 points in 33 games during his best stretch.
When fellow centreman Travis Zajac returned to the lineup late in the season and for the playoffs, Henrique played on the third line with David Clarkson and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Even with his reduced ice time during the playoffs, Henrique still managed 15 points in 24 games and scored two series-clinching goals in overtime to eliminate the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers.
Parise and Ponikarovsky signed elsewhere during the offseason, leaving Henrique to learn to play with new linemates this season.
“Some decisions will have to be made, obviously,” he said. “It’s bit of a different look with some guys in and out of the lineup. (The Devils) expect me to come out of this and be playing strong right away and I don’t expect anything less from myself.
“Hopefully I just find a way to help the team get more wins.”
Despite not getting a full practice in with his teammates after being cleared for contact, Henrique started his first game of the season on the fourth line for the Devils, but was promoted to the top line with Kovalchuk and Zajac midway through the game. Henrique scored the game-tying goal as the Devils forced overtime before losing 5-4 to the New York Islanders.