The ink has dried, ensuring that Adam Henrique will be an Anaheim Duck well into the foreseeable future. The 28-year old center, fresh off of a successful first season in southern California, signed a five-year, $29.25 million contract earlier in the week which is set to kick in next summer.
Out there obviously but Adam Henrique's five-year contract extension carries a 5.825M AAV.— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) July 16, 2018
Anaheim rewarded Henrique handsomely for the 20 goals he potted in only 57 games with them in 2017-18. He effectively stopped the bleeding on the Ducks’ season at a time where their roster was battered with injury. Once Ryan Kesler returned to the lineup later in the season, he proved to be an effective third line pivot, who could also contribute on the power play.
At face value, there’s not much to scoff about. Centers tend to get paid in the National Hockey League, especially those who can produce with the regularity that Henrique has over his career. If Anaheim hadn’t paid up, another club surely would have. However, the Ducks have a unique set of needs, and that’s where the intrigue begins with this deal.
Ryan Kesler’s health seems to be a total unknown going into next season. Good luck projecting the three years left on his deal after that. Anaheim has famously leaned on the 33-year old to be its matchup center, regularly going toe-to-toe with the other team’s best skaters. That trend held true last season even in his depleted state, as he clocked in the highest quality of competition rating based on time on ice.
Once again, head coach Randy Carlyle gave him the lion’s share of his starts in the defensive zone. Even with some late-season improvement, Kesler clocked in well below break-even in on-ice shot control. Not exactly an encouraging sign for someone with that level of responsibility. Forget whether or not Kesler can return to that Selke Trophy-level form: the question seems to now revolve around his ability to even play a full season.
Henrique thus becomes an unwitting participant in this melodrama. In the event of a Kesler absence — extended or not — he will become the de facto second-line center, and it is very unclear how he would fare in that role.
In his last three seasons, Henrique hasn’t seemed like a clear-cut play driver. For example: the on-ice shot clock was well in the Ducks’ favor when he was on a line with Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, yet those numbers cratered when he was away from that duo. Conversely, Ritchie and Kase’s numbers held up relatively well without Henrique.
The same can be said when he was with and without the pairing of Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour. He had a bigger role in his last season in New Jersey, but the Devils weren’t exactly dominating play with him out there either. Not ideal for a guy who might have to step into a much bigger role as soon as next season.
Of course, none of this really matters if Kesler returns to full form. Henrique would stay in his third-line slot, where he was clearly effective last season. And even if Kesler is out for an extended period of time, there’s nothing that says that the Ducks can’t divide up the defensive duties more evenly between between its top three lines. Carlyle might actually be forced to roll his lines more than he has in the past.
Even so, as Kesler ages further, Henrique’s role will most likely grow, but the hope for Anaheim would be that a Sam Steel type would be able to step in by that point. The shadow of Kesler’s health colors all of this, and it will be fascinating to see how it all shakes out. The Ducks certainly seem to believe that they have answers.