Avalanche forward T.J. Hensick has only been with the big club a short while this year, but the 5-foot-10, 185-pound forward has made his impact felt.
After being recalled from the Lake Erie Monsters on Nov. 6, Hensick picked up an assist in his 2008-09 debut that same night against the Minnesota Wild. Only two days later, he assisted on the Avalanche’s only goal in a 1-0 triumph over the Nashville Predators.
Perhaps nobody has been more pleased to see Hensick in the lineup than Darcy Tucker. The veteran forward has been the beneficiary of both of Hensick’s assists, which included Tucker’s 200th career NHL goal on Saturday against Nashville.
“We’ve played a few shifts together and he’s just creative,” said Tucker. “Obviously he’s a smaller guy, but he finds ways to get the puck to his wingers. You just have to find ways to get open for him.”
Hensick, in turn, believes the chemistry between the two players is built as much in the locker room as it is on the ice.
“I think we had three shifts together in the last two games and we had two goals,” said Hensick. “It’s one of those things where we just seem to be clicking. He’s a good guy, and I think our relationship off the ice has helped our play on the ice.”
Hensick’s success at the NHL level is simply a continuation of his accomplishments during his previous stops. After a stellar four-year career at the University of Michigan, the center split the 2007-08 campaign between Lake Erie and Colorado. Hensick appeared in 31 regular season games and two playoff contests for the Avalanche, while ranking second on the Monsters’ scoring chart with 45 points (12g/33a) in only 50 games.
This season didn’t start off any differently, as he was leading the Monsters with 13 points (6g/7a) and held a +5 rating at the time of his recall. He had also recorded points in nine of Lake Erie’s 10 games and held a seven-game point streak during which he had totaled nine points (5g/4a).
Hensick credits part of his individual success in the American Hockey League to a heightened level of familiarity this year. The Monsters are in the midst of their second AHL season after opening play in 2007-08.
“The first year, everything was new; management, coaching staff, players, a brand new city, the works,” said Hensick. “I think everyone has a better feel this year and I think we have great veteran leaders. It seems like more of a team down there this year.”
Like any young player, Hensick is working hard to secure a permanent spot on an NHL roster during his time in Denver. But he’s not simply crossing his fingers and hoping that he will stick with the Avs permanently. Hensick is making things happen by approaching each shift like he has something to prove.
“I don’t really have a secure spot on the team, so I have to work that much harder every shift. I think the coaches know what I can do, but I just need to do it consistently. That’s the biggest thing for me, showing them that I can do it every night.”
Notes from Monday’s Practice Avalanche captain Joe Sakic did not skate today due to a stiff back. Avalanche head coach Tony Granato says he hasn’t become more concerned about the injury and is holding out hope that Sakic will travel with the team on its upcoming road trip.
“I don’t know any more than I did a couple days ago,” said Granato. “I just know his back tightened up in practice. Obviously he tried (playing in) the game. It started good, but then it started getting tight. It’s the same thing; rather than make it worse, at the end of the first period we pulled him. Hopefully he’s progressing and will be able to play on the trip.”
Ben Guite fell to the ice during today’s practice and “lost his wind” before leaving the ice.
Cody McCormick will return to Denver later today and will accompany the team on its upcoming road trip.