Nick Henry appeared to be college bound after making a verbal commitment to Western Michigan University last May. Those plans began to change when the Regina Pats acquired his WHL rights from the Everett Silvertips at the 2016 bantam draft. He went on to forego a NCAA scholarship and sign with the Queen City Kids in early September.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder winger points to his development as the main reason for his major hockey decision. He believes going straight to the WHL was a better option than playing in the MJHL (Manitoba Junior A) and USHL before joining Western Michigan in 2018-19.
“It came down to the time frame,” says Henry. “If I went to Western Michigan, I would have had to play another year in Portage (Terriers) and then a year in the USHL. I felt it made more sense for my development to come here. I have nothing against (coach) Andy Murray’s program and would have loved to play for him, but it just made sense for me to go this route.”
Although it wasn’t at the forefront of his decision, Henry’s advancement from the MJHL to the WHL undoubtedly enhanced his NHL draft exposure. He’s currently regarded as a potential late-round pick in the 2017 NHL draft class.
“NHL exposure played into it a little bit,” says the Portage la Prairie, Man., native, who is pegged as a C-list prospect by NHL Central Scouting Service. “It wasn’t a big thing for my decision. I’m focused on my development right now and am just looking to build towards that (the NHL). If I get drafted, that would be great, but I’m not focusing on that right now.”
Henry’s decision has paid early dividends for both himself and his team. He has quickly solidified himself as a top-six forward in the WHL, notching five goals and 11 points in his first 10 games after a strong pre-season.
“I think the key has been playing with good players,” he says on his early WHL success. “There are a lot of good players on this team and we’ve built chemistry. It makes it a lot easier when you have that chemistry with your linemates.”
In addition to on-ice chemistry, Henry credits a couple of Regina veterans for helping him hit the ground running. He feels Dawson Leedahl and Sam Steel have eased him into the Pats organization.
“Dawson is an older guy in the league who has walked me through everything and helped me out,” he says. “Sammy (Steel) is a quiet leader, too. He’s a good leader on this team.”
Henry joined the Pats with a winning attitude ingrained in him from the Terriers. He played a vital role in helping Portage win an MJHL championship and attain a 52-6-2 regular-season record last year.
“Winning becomes a part of you when you play on winning teams,” says Henry, who notched 26 goals and 61 points in 50 games with the Terriers. “I’ve been spoiled to play on such good teams and had an unbelievable experience with Portage. I grew up watching the Terriers, and it was exciting to win a championship with them and play with them in my 16-year-old season.”
Fortunately for Henry, it seems the skilled play-maker left one contender for another. The Pats are favoured to come out of the WHL’s Eastern Conference and potentially win the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
“I do see some similarities and think the Pats could have a good year like we had at Portage last season,” he says. “There’s a great group of guys here and we just need to keep on playing like we have been this year.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen