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.