Image via Matthew Henderson
Nicklas Jensen sure did rack up the frequent flyer miles in 2012-13. Jensen left his OHL club in Oshawa to join AIK of the Swedish Elite League, a move that was “supported” by the Canucks. He then went on to play in both the AHL and NHL after his SEL season concluded.
While competing in Sweden, Jensen produced at a very impressive rate for his age. The power winger has a bevy of impressive attributes, and he got a small taste of NHL action last year. But how far off is he from sticking around for good?
Read on past the jump for more.
Jensen scored 17 goals in the SEL in 2012-13, placing him 11th among all SEL skaters in goals scored. He posted only six assists, but still finished fourth on the AIK roster in overall production. Not bad for a 19-year-old (Jensen led all SEL teenagers in goal scoring by a significant margin).
Jensen recorded only four points in 20 games with Chicago after coming over to North America, and was pointless in two games with the Canucks near the end of their regular season. He has good size (6-3 and approaching 200 pounds), good skill, and from my limited viewings, a solid understanding of the professional game.
His two-way game improved leaps and bounds in his second OHL season, even if his production remained constant (he finished with 58 points for Oshawa in both 2010-11 and 2011-12).
He first really teased Canucks fans at the 2011 prospects camp as an 18-year-old, and later as a first-year pro player with Chicago at the end of the 2011-12 season (four goals – including a hat trick – in a six-game span will have that effect).
His versatility was on display at the 2012 World Junior Championships, when he served as the powerplay quarterback for the Danish team. Jensen finished with one assist and five shots on goal in an impressive performance – albeit in a 10-2 loss – against the Canadians.
To add a few more contributors to this year’s prospect profile, I consulted with Canucks.com writer Tyson Giuriato. Tyson has tracked Jensen’s development over the past few years very closely, and he talked with Jensen back in March about his experiences in Sweden.
Jensen on the differences between the SEL and North American rink sizes:
"It’s so hard to compare which league is better or if a league is better, it’s a different style and a totally different game in my opinion. In Sweden, it’s the big ice to start with and they really like to keep the puck and not dump-and-chase as much. Over here it’s more straight ahead and crash the net, which they also do in Sweden but it’s different with the big ice, there is so much more room and that’s why there is not as much hitting there compared to in North America."
Is Jensen ready for the NHL now? How many games will he see with the Canucks in 2013-14?
"I think Jensen could play in the NHL right now, but I wouldn’t rush him there unless there was an opening in an offensive role where he can showcase his talents. If he doesn’t make the team out of the gate, I think you will see him at some point this season in a Canucks uniform, maybe even for an extended period of time. A tiny bit of seasoning in the AHL wouldn’t hurt him."
Is his stat line from the SEL indicative of his playing style? Or is it more indicative of the team he was on?
"Jensen is the type of player that will have more goals then assists most seasons. This doesn’t mean he has limited playmaking abilities, I just think he has so much confidence in his shot that he chooses to use it more than dishing the puck off. People look at his goals-to-assists ratio and figure he isn’t much of a playmaker, but he will surprise a lot of people with his creativity and skill-set on the ice. Underrated playmaking ability, in my mind."
Who in the NHL does he play like? What are his strengths and weaknesses as a player?
"I am not big on player comparisons, but if I had to choose a player that reminds me of Jensen it would most likely be former Canucks Michael Grabner. Like Grabner, Jensen possesses a deadly wrist shot, good speed, good size and a shoot-first mentality. What I really like about Jensen’s game is the way he competes. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, battles for loose pucks and is very dangerous around the net, especially on the power-play. He is one of those players that seem to always want the puck on his stick. One thing he could work on is his defensive zone play, but that’s improving. It may have hurt his stats in the AHL last season, but Jensen worked very hard on improving his defensive play during his 20 games with the Wolves."
Where do you see his long term fit in Vancouver?
"I think with just a little bit more seasoning at the AHL level and some added strength, Jensen could develop into a legit top-six winger in the NHL for a long time. He has the size, shot, skating, and confidence to be a 30-plus goal scorer down the road."
And the skill, too:
So where do his NHL prospects lie? Short term, he is in tough to make the team unless he has a really, really impressive camp. He does play a somewhat similar game to David Booth (strong skater, shoot-first mentality) and could potentially replace him when the inevitable injury strikes. Right now, there are a lot of open roster spots on the roster, but most of those are of the center ice variety. How many open winger spots are there? Realistically, Sedin, Burrows, Kassian, Booth, Higgins, Hansen, and Weise are all locks to make the team. That leaves one winger spot open. Jensen won’t make the team as a fourth line player (he shouldn’t, at least).
If he does come in and impresses in camp, it would give John Tortorella a lot of options up front. Jensen’s cap hit is south of the $1 million mark ($925,000, and that includes a $92,500 bonus that could potentially slide to 2014-15), which makes him a very attractive option in the top-nine.
And suddenly the Canucks would become a pretty deep team (at least on the wings) again.
(This is just one of about a thousand different line combinations you could come up with between now and opening night.)
Not many players drafted out of the CHL head over to Europe to play pro hockey before entering the AHL or NHL, and thhe Canucks are hoping that Jensen’s development is expedited because of it.