Nicklas Jensen celebrates a goal with Chris Tanev during the 2011-12 preseason.
In the first period of Saturday night’s loss to the Red Wings, David Booth came up lame out of a scrum along the endboards. Following the game, Booth was seen leaving Rogers Arena on crutches. We’ll know more when the results of his MRI on Monday become public, but it’s safe to assume that he’ll be out of the lineup for at least a couple of weeks and quite probably longer.
With their divisive, play-driving powerforward and shooting percentage outlier likely back on the shelf and Zack Kassian battling a back ailment that kept him out of the lineup on Saturday, the Canucks will presumably need to call-up a forward from the Chicago Wolves ahead of Monday nights game against the Minnesota Wild. Should that player be Nicklas Jensen, the Danish sniper who has flashed the potential to find holes in opposing goaltenders this season in addition to finding loopholes in the NHL-CHL transfer agreement?
Read on past the jump.
On this subject there are a few critical issues to consider. Principally speaking though you’d expect the Canucks to try and find the best balance between Jensen’s readiness to effectively compete at the NHL level, what’s best for his development long-term, and his contract status.
The Player Development Angle
On what’s best for Jensen’s long-term development as a hockey player, I’ll admit to limited insight. Frankly, I don’t know much of anything about the Canucks’ player development philosophy beyond Mike Gillis’ boasts of "designing success for young players" at the NHL level and Alain Vigneault’s refusal to parcel out responsibility to rookies who aren’t effective in all three-zones. I can, however, tell you that were Nicklas Jensen to make his Canucks debut this season, he would be the first teenager to dress in a regular season game with the Canucks in the Mike Gillis era. The last teenaged Canucks skater by the way: Luc Bourdon in November of 2006.
Nicklas Jensen’s Contract
Nicklas Jensen is on an entry-level contract that will continue to slide this season so long as he doesn’t play more than a small handful of NHL contests. Basically so long as Nicklas Jensen doesn’t play in more than five regular season games, the Canucks won’t hit the start button on the three year entry-level pact that they signed the Danish sharpshooter too back in 2011.
Even if Nicklas Jensen is ready to help the team win this season (and in fact especially if he’s already an NHL caliber offensive talent at the age of 19) getting a maximum of 23 regular season games out the first year of his entry-level contract would be some piss poor asset management. The Canucks to their credit generally run a tighter ship than that.
So effectiveness aside, it’s worth remembering that Nicklas Jensen probably shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a short-term replacement for David Booth.
Generally I would lean on the side of betting that Nicklas Jensen isn’t ready to play a major role on a regular basis in the NHL this season. But I’d wager that he could help the Canucks in a particular area where they’ve been struggling on enormously this season: the power-play.
Let’s start with Nicklas Jensen’s two-way game. It looked good at the OHL level generally speaking, but this past season while playing against men in Sweden Nicklas Jensen’s plus/minus took a significant nose dive. This isn’t a big issue long-term, partly because goal plus/minus is a bogus stat and also because of the critical context that Nicklas Jensen was playing on a pretty bad team in a very tough professional league at the age of 19.
Still Jensen was near the bottom of the pile among AIK’s regulars by this too blunt metric, and has narrowly been a "minus" player in six AHL games so far this season too. I’m not sure if that plus/minus number reflects any real two-way deficiencies or not – he wasn’t a true outlier among AIK’s regulars and had a high shot rate – but I think it’s safe to call it a moderate red flag. Or if we want to be all British Columbian about it, we could call it a salmon pink flag. That salmon pink flag becomes a more significant one, however, when you remember that the quality of a role player’s defensive play correlates closely with Alain Vigneault’s willingness to give that player ice-time.
On the other hand, with Kesler and Booth out of the lineup the Canucks are going to need to score some goals. Ideally they’d figure out a way of mixing in some goals of the power-play variety too.
I tend to think that this is an area where Jensen is probably ready to help at the NHL level. During his SEL stint with AIK he potted 17 goals in 57 games which translates to 20 goals (according to Desjardins’ league translation numbers) at the NHL level over an eighty-two game season. More importantly, Jensen led all AIK skaters in power-play goals with six and already in six AHL games Jensen has scored twice on the power-play.
One of those goals was a nice snipe from the slot. Jensen demonstrates his skill level kicking the puck to his stick and making for damn sure with an emphatic finish:
On his other goal Jensen starts the break out, gets the return pass (which fools the camera man in the below clip) and then battles through traffic before roofing the puck:
From what I’ve seen Jensen’s a pretty talented offensive player with a lazer shot and some playmaking upside. In Oshawa he used to play the right point an awful lot with the man-advantage (he has a left-handed shot) and in addition to his wrist-shot he can absolutely launch one-timers. Those are things that the Canucks could, y’know, use on the power-play at the moment I’d think.
Obivously we’d expect Nicklas Jensen to go through some two-way growing pains when he does eventually make his NHL debut, whether that happens this season or next. But I tend to think his offensive game is sufficiently well developed that he could contribute usefully in a limited role with lots of power-play time.
That said, I’d probably argue that Jensen is the type of piece better suited to making his debut on a loaded team, rather than with an undermanned club trying to gut out some wins. For that reason, and becasue of Jensen’s contract status, I’d be pretty surprised if he got the call over one of Andrew Gordon or Jordan Schroeder. Still if Jensen is the guy who gets called up, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him flash some ability to produce goals against NHL-caliber defenses and goaltending.