LAS VEGAS - Not many players selected 82nd overall in their draft year get nominated for the Calder Trophy.
Heck, not many players selected 82nd overall in their draft year even play in the NHL.
But nobody needs to tell the average hockey fan that Adam Henrique is something special.
The New Jersey Devils centre took the long road to the NHL, going back to junior and spending a full season in the AHL, but he arrived with a vengeance — scoring 51 points, one off the rookie lead, and emerging as a central cog in New Jersey’s run to the Stanley Cup final.
“I always believed in myself and my abilities, that I could play in the league, that I would be here one day,” he said Tuesday, as the NHL award nominees met with media at the Wynn Hotel. “I don’t think there are a lot of people who would have expected me to be here, and that makes it that much sweeter.”
That nobody took him till 82 shows what an inexact science scouting can be. In the same draft, the scouts had Jordan Eberle ranked 33rd among North American skaters.
“My development, playing a year in the AHL, did a lot for me,” said the 22-year-old, who’s up against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog for the Calder. “The players and the coaching staff there matured me as a young guy and prepared me for what was next to come.
“A year ago I wouldn’t have believe I would be here a year later, but I’ll take it. Now I have to do it again next year, but I’d rather have those expectations than people not expecting much.”
The Calder nomination is one thing, but coming to close to another major award, the Stanley Cup, is the real highlight of his rookie year.
“To have that in my first year, the learning experience is something that will be with me for the rest of my career. You can’t teach experience. You can ask as many questions as you want of guys who’ve been there, but until you’ve been there yourself and played in those games, you don’t know.”
MacLEAN THE YOUNG GUN
Sitting next to sage veterans and Stanley Cup winners Ken Hitchcock and John Tortorella, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean felt like a 54-year-old kid.
“It’s like I’m rookie of the year compared with them, the coaching records they have and what they’ve done,” said MacLean, who deserves the jack Adams for the job he did resurrecting woeful Senators. “I just hope I can live up to the nomination at the end of the day.”
The Blues were 6-7 when Hitchcock took over and the Ranger are high-priced, high talent cast. The Sens were a dysfunctional mess, expected to finished about 17th in the east. Instead, even after the roster had been stripped of some key veterans, MacLean still guided them to a playoff spot.
“He done an unbelievable job with us,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson. “From having a really tough year and all the changes that we had, losing (Mike) Fisher and and some veterans players, to take our group, we didn’t have a lot of confidence, and to push us and motivate us in a way where we had a group that never quits and believed in ourselves, that reflects on the coach.”
WHAT A YEAR FOR LUNDQVIST
Calling it whirlwind doesn’t do Henrik Lundqvist’s season justice.
In fact, the New York Rangers goalie doesn’t know how to describe the last eight months.
He opened the NHL’s regular season in his native Sweden, played the outdoor Winter Classic in Philadelphia, posted 39 wins and a 1.97 GAA in the regular season, took New York three rounds deep in the playoffs and is now up for three major awards.
“This year was a fun year, we did so many good things, fun things,” he grinned. “The Europe trip, the winter classic and the run we had was awesome.”
Wednesday evening he’s up for the Hart Trophy, the Vezina, and the Ted Lindsay Award (voted on by the players).
“To be nominated for three awards means a lot to me, it really does,” said Lundqvist. “You work really hard to try and get to a level where you’re competing against the best. And then to be here means a lot to my confidence, knowing that I’m doing good things. It also motivates me to try and get even better.”
NUGENT-HOPKINS CRAZY GOOD
Avs winger Gabriel Landeskog doesn’t get a vote, but if he did he’d be tempted to give it to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for rookie of the year.
After seeing his fellow Calder candidate up close in the NHL, he says the young Oiler is scary good.
“He’s so skilled and so smart that he can play with any players and in any situation,” said Landeskog. “That’s what’s so amazing about him. He’s tough to play against, that’s for sure. He’s so shifty you don’t know what he’s going to do. He also has a really good wrist shot, which makes him a pretty complete centreman.”
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