Forget the recent kerfuffle, Nicklas Jensen’s year with AIK is all upside for the Canucks

Photo Credit: Marcus Ericsson / Bildbyrån

Appearing on the Team 1040 late last week with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price, Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis was asked a pointed question about Nicklas Jensen’s status with his Swedish Elite League club, Stockholm based AIK. You’ll recall that Jensen took a non-traditional route for his 19 year old season, choosing to leave the Ontario Hockey League in favour of a tougher professional men’s league in Sweden. This season he’s adjusted seamlessly and performed extraordinarily well for a nineteen year old skater in the third most difficult professional hockey league in the world. In 46 games this season, he leads AIK in both goals and power-play goals and is the most productive teenager in the Swedish elite League by a wide-margin.

So it seemed odd that – following a coaching change at AIK – Jensen found himself a regular healthy scratch…

Read on past the jump.

Thanks to Sekres and Price we have Mike GIllis’ side of the story, which goes as follows:

"Well what I think has happened is they were out of the playoffs and wanted to try and trade his rights to get something at their deadline which we didn’t agree with because we didn’t want to see him traded to another team. So, you know when his team finishes we expect him to be over here playing in Chicago. We were uncomfortable with that and I think there might be some measure of holding it against him but that won’t last for too much longer."

[Gillis is asked why the Canucks didn’t approve of the trade]

"For a number of reasons. One, we wanted to get him back here to play in the American Hockey League and gain that experience like he did before. He’s certainly capable of playing at that level and excelling so we didn’t want him going to another team and having him miss that opportunity this year. If his team was in the playoffs that would’ve been fine, but he’s a young guy and we just didn’t feel comfortable with him moving around and then not getting that American Hockey League experience.

I reached out to some Swedish hockey writers and the "trade" explanation wasn’t something they’d heard anything about. Looking over Swedish articles (thanks to Google translate), I can’t find much discussion about this scenario, though I can find a quote from AIK’s new coach questioning Jensen’s two-way game and opining that Jensen is handling his string of appearances in the press box "well."

In the OHL, Nicklas Jensen was a steady two-way player. Granted, the Swedish Elite League represents a pretty steep step up in quality of competition, and Jensen is a -13 (yes the stat sucks, but it’s all we’ve really got). So perhaps there’s something to his coaches comments. Whatever the explanation, a 19 year old prospect gathering cobwebs in the press box is a sub-optimal developmental situation and I’m sure the Canucks would rather see Jensen given the opportunity to work through his issues…

Regardless of what’s happened or why it has happened, Gillis was dead on when he said that Jensen’s banishment wouldn’t "last for too much longer." First of all, AIK’s season ends on March 5th and they’re unlikely to make the SEL’s postseason tournament. Also, just yesterday Jensen found himself back in AIK’s lineup and played about 17 minutes while scoring the put away goal in his team’s come from behind victory over Frolunda.

As the experiment enters its final week or two, it appears that Nicklas Jensen’s season with AIK was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Jensen had to deal with some hiccups as a result of playing on a struggling team going through a coaching change. On the other hand, however, he spent a productive season of development against more difficult competition and it looks like he’ll be able to join the American Hockey League at least a month (and maybe as much as six weeks depending on how Oshawa does in the OHL postseason) earlier than if he’d spent the year in Major Junior. That’s a worthwhile trade off in my view.

As for whether or not we might see Nicklas Jensen play in the NHL this season, Gillis certainly left that door wide open on Friday:

n our organization people earn what they get and Nick has played very well. I think he needs to continue to gain experience at the pro-level and he’s moved along quite nicely. This is a minor hiccup in the season for him but we expect him – when he gets to Chicago – to contribute there and if he continues he’ll be contributing for us.

  • elvis15

    So here’s the question, why is it a loophole for a player who has been in the CHL to not have to return there if he isn’t playing for his NHL team while in North America? He wasn’t 20 at the cutoff date, so shouldn’t the CHL/NHL agreement still apply?

  • That’s a great question and one I wrestled with (and got at a few people more familiar with the AHL than I). Basically the AHL rules allow the following: “Teams may also add signed draft choices provided that their respective junior or college seasons are complete.”

    Most of the people I spoke with seemed to think that he’d be treated as a college or major jr. player who had completed his season once AIK’s season ends. Perhaps I should’ve included a paragraph about that in the post, instead I just went for the qualified “looks like.”

    • elvis15

      I wondered if him having played a full season in a league other than the CHL and NHL which fell outside the agreement was the reasoning. If it is treated like a college season despite him being still eligible for CHL duty based on age, then I’d guess that despite the way the team is treating Jensen, the Canucks can’t pull him early from there or they would lose that AHL option until Oshawa’s season is done. Pity he has to sit there (although as mentioned he started to get regular time again) and ride out the season just so he can play in the AHL instead of going back to junior.

      And I guess next question is would he play with the Wolves under his Canucks contract (burning a year of his ELC) or would the Wolves be able to have him on a PTO or something similar? I can’t come up with an easy example to showcase it without doing the legwork, but I’d think he’d play under his Canucks contract.

  • Not an expert but I’m pretty sure he’s not OHL property is because of the import restrictions. The OHL only allows 2 import spots. The Generals definitely have 2 euros on their protected list now so they would have dropped Jensen to make room.