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AHL All-Star Hensick showcasing potential in NHL

by Craig Stancher ||

hensick-col_200.jpgT.J. Hensick knew it would only be a matter of time before the pucks started hitting the back of the net.

A high-scoring forward at every level he’s played, the Colorado Avalanche rookie has begun to show signs of his offensive potential at the NHL level.

In Hensick’s first five games following his latest recall from the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, the rookie has produced six points (5g, 1a), including back-to-back multi-goal games against the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes.

“It’s definitely exciting to get back-to-back games with two goals and help this team offensively. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do since I first got called up and it’s finally coming,” said Hensick. “Maybe there was a little relief on my part, but I knew it would come with time. It’s a learning process for me and I learn something new every day.”

Hensick capped off a memorable four-year stint at the University of Michigan in 2006-07, a season in which he led the nation with 69 points (23g, 46a) in 41 games. He was also tops in the country in assists, assists-per-game (1.12) and points-per-game (1.68) during his final season as a Wolverine. Those gaudy statistics made him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top player in college hockey.

Not surprisingly, his considerable talents translated well to the American Hockey League. Hensick started the season with Lake Erie and led the team in scoring with 13 points (5g, 8a) in 18 games prior to his first recall by the Avalanche on Nov. 29.

It didn’t take long for the rookie to notch his first NHL goal. The Lansing, Mich., native scored in only his second contest with the Avalanche, a Dec. 1 match-up against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.

After that game, however, Hensick went through a 19-game goal drought, something not uncharacteristic for a rookie still learning the ropes in the NHL.

Displaying his resiliency, Hensick fought through the stretch and has become a valuable contributor for the Avalanche, impressing his teammates in the process.

hensick“He’s playing great. Sometimes when you have that hot stick it feels like everything is going in,” said Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles. “He’s worked hard and put in some time in the minors and had a few trips back and forth, so it’s nice to see him rewarded.”

If Hensick continues to provide a scoring punch at the NHL level this season, his participation in the AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 28 may be looked upon as a turning point.

Hensick skated for PlanetUSA in the showcase and scored two goals while adding a pair of assists to lead all scorers.

When you examine the timing of his recent goal-scoring streak, its relation to his performance in the All-Star Game becomes clear. Playing – and playing well – against the AHL’s top skaters gave the 5-10, 185-pound forward a confidence boost.

“Coming up and down and only playing 25 games in the American League, you don’t really know where you stand against its top players,” said Hensick. “Being in the All-Star game was kind of overwhelming, but playing against the best players and having such a good game gave me confidence.”

That confidence is now translating to his play at the NHL level. Hensick has pleased Avalanche head coach Joel Quenneville with both his confidence with the puck and how he’s progressed each time he’s been called up by Colorado.

But perhaps most importantly, Hensick has impressed Quenneville and his teammates alike with the spark he’s provided to the team’s power play unit.

“Things are going well for me right now, especially on the power-play,” said Hensick. “Right now, I’m more comfortable than I have been in the past and the guys have been really good to me, so hopefully it can continue.”