Adam Henrique relishing hard-nosed battles with the Ducks

ByGreg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

ANAHEIM -- Adam Henrique has the battle scars from his years in the Eastern Conference, back when he was a popular member of the New Jersey Devils. Those playoff battles against the New York Rangers. Those chaotic nights against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders. Those rivalry games.

His favorite moment? That would be in 2012, when the Devils and Rangers put out their respective goon squads and had a line brawl two seconds after the opening faceoff, the kind of pugilistic sideshow that happened with frequency during the heyday of these feuds. His teammate Martin Brodeur hated seeing it -- "We're here to play, and it takes 10 minutes to pick up the gloves and blood," he said at the time -- but Henrique relished that intensity.

"Man, there's nothing like those games," he said.

The concept of NHL rivalries has shifted dramatically during Henrique's career. Fighting has declined by roughly 50 percent since his rookie season in 2011-12. But the emotional intensity that he felt in those Eastern Conference grudge matches is something he has experienced in his two seasons with the Anaheim Ducksfollowing the November 2017 trade in which the Devils swapped him for Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen.

Because, frankly, the rest of the Pacific Division pretty much hates the Anaheim Ducks. So the games get passionate.

"I saw that coming in last year. These guys get up to go to war," Henrique told ESPN. "Every team has its rivalries. And those are the games you get up for."

These rivalry games have been transformed in the new NHL.

"I think there's been a general consensus for a long time: That the West was bigger, heavier, tougher. The East is more of a speed game. But now, everybody has to play that speed game," he said.

As Ducks coach Randy Carlyle put it: "The new NHL is full of rush hockey."

That's where Henrique comes in. He doesn't have to be the antagonist that Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry are (when healthy) or throw his body around like Ryan Getzlaf or Josh Manson. He's there to push the pace and create offense, no matter whom he's skating with.

"Henrique has come in here and solidified the center ice position. He's a pretty smart player. Easy guy to play with," Carlyle said.

That has been evident in the start of this season. Henrique excelled last season playing with wingers Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. But Ritchie is an unsigned restricted free agent, and Kase is out with a concussion. So Henrique has skated with forward Jakob Silfverberg and rookie Max Comtois, generating five even-strength goals in their six games together. Silfverberg, whose numbers dipped last season, is off to a fast start, with seven points in six games. That's what happens when one skates with Adam Henrique.

Look at Kase. The second-year winger had a breakout season in 2017-18, with 20 goals in 66 games. Conversely, Henrique had 20 goals himself in 57 games after the trade.

"I think the mixture of our games goes well," Henrique said of Kase. "I try to be all over the ice, and he's certainly a high-end talent with high-end skill. I think people have seen that in the last couple of years."

That Henrique clicked with the 22-year-old Czech is impressive, given the challenges.

"Yeah, he doesn't speak any English," Henrique said with a laugh. "Just yelling at me out there. I don't know what he's saying."

But the two have developed their own rapport. Sometimes it's just a look or a nod on the ice that the duo share.

"When we come back to the bench, we'll discuss things. Keep him dialed in. That's just another thing about getting comfortable with each other," he said.

"Last season was a big coming-out party for him. Got a new contract. It was a big year."

Kase was signed to a three-year, $7.8 million contract. Henrique benefited too: The Ducks handed him a five-year, $29.125 million extension in July.

Henrique wanted the extension, which begins in 2019-20, for peace of mind. The trade out of New Jersey was tough on him. It was unexpected, as he left the team that drafted him and with which he had put down roots, including several local charitable efforts. He characterized the trade as a "shock." He didn't want another one. Not at the trade deadline, with free agency looming. Not in the summer, when he might have to dabble in the market for the first time. And especially not after finding a comfort zone with his team and his teammates.

Adam Henrique is a Duck.

"The fit here was so good for me, ever since the trade. It felt like I had been there for a few years, on and off the ice," he said.

He is a Duck who loves that Western Conference battle.

"No matter who you play in this league, you can't take a night off. Whether it's the 31st-place team or the first-place team," he said. "It's a grind. It's a battle. But it's something this team loves."