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Yesterday we took a look at Troy Bourke, the small center who was voted in as the 25th best player in the Avalanche under organization under the age of 25. Today, we’re going to profile what you could safely say is Bourke’s exact opposite in Big Sam Henley.
Coming in at 25th on 4 of the 6 ballots turned in from the BSN Avalanche writers, Henley slots in at number 24 by virtue of appearing on more ballots than Bourke. He represents the kind of player that every smart organization keeps around at all times in case he develops into a useful NHL player.
Who is Samuel Henley?
As you can see, Henley, at a robust 6’5″ and 220 pounds, is a very big winger and it’s no surprise that he excels primarily on the defensive end of the ice. Undrafted and signed as an overage player to a 3-year entry-level contract last summer, Henley enjoyed his most prolific offensive season in his final year in juniors as he led the Val d’Or Foreurs on a deep Memorial Cup run. Making the leap to professional hockey this season, Henley began the season by impressing many people, myself included, in Avalanche training camp as his large body and rugged play style were immediate contrasts to the sometimes smaller and certainly quicker lineups iced by the Avalanche in recent seasons. His nose for the net on the offensive end, physical demeanor, and overall high quality of defensive play meant that when Henley started the season in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters he would be given 4th line minutes for the team.
While typically considered mop-up duty in the AHL, Henley’s role on the Monsters was quietly very important as he chewed up penalty kill time and consistently took defensive zone starts and played the “dirty” minutes. His modest offensive contributions of 10 points in 54 games played were a far cry from the point-per-game pace he flashed at the end of his junior career and were certainly a more realistic representation of the kind of player he will be in the pro game.
A very smart player, Henley is the kind of guy who could maximize his limited tools because his hockey sense and feel for the game are very good. An adept reader of the play, Henley excels by using his excellent size on the forecheck to cause havoc on opposing team’s breakout attempts. Offensively, his high hockey IQ leads him to always be in the right place at the right time and he understands that at his size he is most effective when driving the net and parking himself there.
What is the future for Samuel Henley?
Unlike Bourke, Henley is unlikely to rise significantly in these rankings over time as he has a limited set of skills that will likely keep him from playing meaningful minutes in the NHL. That said, Henley’s hockey smarts and natural size are both attributes Avalanche Head Coach Patrick Roy has shown he loves in his players.
Henley has a better chance than most players to 100% maximize his talent because his work ethic and self-awareness allow him to play at maximum effort while consistently playing within his range of abilities. He will enter next season having recently turned 22 years old and with two years remaining on his contract with the Avalanche, he is a guy to keep an eye on as the team continues to make an effort to weed out the smaller players coveted by previous Head Scout Rick Pracey and bring in players more to Roy’s liking (read: bigger players).
Henley’s defensive acumen and heady play will likely pave the way for a lengthy career in North American pro hockey and should he stay healthy, a problem this past season, his role as a defensive stopper should only continue to grow as the Avs move their minor league operation to the San Antonio Rampage next year. Going into next season, he should begin on either the Rampage’s 3rd or 4th line and see heavy penalty killing duties. Should the Avs bottom 6 forwards experience the numerous injuries it did last season, Henley could slowly become a player the Avalanche give increasing consideration to as an emergency call-up. His ceiling is unlikely to extend beyond that of a 4th-line depth player at the NHL level.