Nicklas Jensen, the Canucks first round selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft is skilled, and rather massive. Standing 6,3 and possessing advanced puck-skills for his age, Jensen was impressive at prospects camp and at training camp last month. The 18 year old Danish national managed to hang-around right until the final cuts were made, and many were speculating that he might become the first 18 year old since Petr Nedved to crack the opening day roster. Though he was eventually sent back to Oshawa, few would have anticipated heading into camp that Jensen would have made such an impression.
Though Jensen’s junior team, the Oshawa Generals, are stacked this season – the results have yet to properly reflect the squad’s immense talent level. "We’ve been struggling a bit," admits Jensen, "But we’re starting to work a bit better together and we’ve won a couple games in a row now – so hopefully we can get on a roll." In addition to Jensen, the team possesses Boone Jenner, Lucas Lessio and Christian Thomas – all of whom went in the second round in 2010 or 11. This weekend, the Generals took 5 of a possible 6 points from three games against Mississauga, Ottawa and Peterborough – and Jensen for his part contributed three points (a goal and two assists) to bring his total to 10, in 8 games played this season.
I was able to finagle a press pass for Friday night’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Mississauga St. Mikes – who have been the OHL’s best team in the early going this season and got to speak with Jensen briefly after the game. Jensen was easily the biggest skater on the ice, at the OHL level he looks like a man among boys. Jensen impressed at Prospects Camp and in the preseason with his "battle skills" and forechecking, but on Friday night it seemed to me that he played much more of a finesse game.
Nonetheless Jensen was impressive, he’s conservative, responsible defensively and his passing, especially through the neutral zone, is superb. Several times on Friday night he sprung line-mates Laughton and Jenner for quality chances off of the rush, and both skaters hit posts off of lovely Jensen feeds.
With Oshawa’s power-play struggling, Jensen was tasked with playing the point with the man-advantage, "I don’t really mind being on the point, though we need to step-up on the powerplay," says Jensen. Though the Generals gave up a short-handed goal on Friday, Jensen looked effective in that position and had an assist, 3 shots and two close misses on the powerplay against the St. Mikes. The General deploy an Umbrella, so it’s not like Jensen was the last man back, but his ability to launch one-timers was noticeable, and led directly to Oshawa’s third period go-ahead goal. Jensen described the play, and gave the lions share of the credit to luck and his teammates, "It was a nice cross ice pass, I just one-timed it and it went off Boone’s knee. It was a lucky bounce but sometimes that’s what it takes."
What’s clear is that Jensen already has the skill-level necessary to be an NHL regular – and if he bulks up some during the season, he could well fit into the Canucks top-six as early as next year. In speaking with him he’s very much personable, and possesses a likable mixture of humility, and confidence: "Obviously I have talent, but without hard-work and discipline I won’t go that far." Though he’s not a stand-out or "plus" skater, he’s got some ability at the OHL level to challenge guys out wide. More importantly, he’s tough to knock off the puck, and managed to dominate a few shifts down-low in the offensive zone against a quality defensive club in Mississauga. The impression I was left with however, was that Jensen’s most NHL ready skills are his shot and his passing ability. Jensen gets a lot of Dijon on his one-timer, and he gets his wrist shot off smoothly and with a lot of velocity.
Maybe the only thing left for Jensen to work on is his social media prowess: "I don’t want to go in on all that twitter stuff right now, I don’t know how it really functions. I have facebook and I don’t even really use that much. I don’t think I’m going to be a twitter guy." That’s probably for the best considering PassittoBulis’ nefarious habit of hounding NHLers off of twitter. No need to court trouble, right?