Earlier this week, Ben Kuzma detailed rookie winger Nicklas Jensen as “an exclamation mark” “determined” “far from an overnight sensation” “cool” with an “all-around awareness and presence.”
It seems that people have begun pencilling in Jensen to the Canucks’ top six next season, a top six that’s painfully lacking in young bodies. Jensen has three goals and five points in just seven games this season and has arguably been the Canucks best player since his call-up.
First, what can Jensen’s stats tell us about the player? Looking beyond the goals and points and the residual optimism that goes along with it, it’s worth keeping in mind that Jensen’s point totals in seven games are very, very noisy. That is to say, there’s little signal when looking at a player’s boxcar statistics—in this case, five points and a +5 rating with 13 shots on goal.
While I admit it’s been fun to watch Jensen, a lot of the entertainment has to be because he’s producing while a lot of Canucks aren’t. Were he not producing, I doubt he’d be hailed as an exclamation mark in many game stories. The hockey world doesn’t have a lot of patience for former first round picks who don’t contribute, and nobody saw Jensen as a potential top sixer when he missed the end of camp due to injury and struggled in the early going of his season with the Utica Comets.
So yes… sample size really does matter.
Jensen scored the 1-0 goal against Nashville a couple of nights ago. In his game recap, Dimitri talked about how “the cynic inside me is thinking ‘man, this team can’t even tank properly!’ And while that’s certainly a reality … there’s also the part of me that’s relieved that there’s finally something to be excited about.”
Dimitri called Jensen “refreshing… especially on the finishing side of things”. He’s a sharp dude, and not somebody usually swayed by player performances in small samples. The cynic inside me however, is determined not to presume a player that wasn’t even on an NHL roster a month ago can suddenly be in a team’s top six next year.
Especially since… <loads up Jensen’s page on ExtraSkater>
Especially since his 35-goal pace is being held up by a 23.1% shooting rate.
Especially since his PDO is at 111.5% through seven games.
Especially since he’s started 41 shifts in the offensive zone to 18 in the defensive zone.
Especially since he’s been playing almost every shift with a former MVP and scoring leader.
Especially when he’s earned points on 83% of the goals scored when he’s been on the ice. (Individual points percentage is a relatively new statistic, but I like it when looking for undervalued players in fantasy hockey. Sidney Crosby and Logan Couture are the best in the league at this, hovering at 85% between 2010 and 2013).
</closes tab. Flips table.>
Sports of course are meant to be fun, and I think it’s possible to be entertained at the things Jensen is doing on the ice without extrapolating his production to next season. The minors are littered with players who have had a small hot run in the NHL.
Jensen is doing some great things with the puck, but any player’s release is going to look great when it finds the back of the net every second time he gets off a good shot. In order to become a reliable top six player, players generally need a defensive element to their game, which isn’t something Jensen has yet—he’s mostly been restricted to playing in the offensive end of the ice, and that always looks like a good plan when everything is going in. (Think how great hardcore zone deployment looked in 2011 when Daniel won the scoring title thanks to Manny Malhotra’s defensive zone prowess. It was only a few years later that we clued in that strategy looked better than it should have thanks to Malhotra’s 103.1% PDO)
It’s fun to watch, but that’s all it is. I don’t think seven games should affect what the Canucks try to do in the summer. We still have 10 games left for the Great(er?) Dane to get cold and the team will look just as hopeless as they did before. The Canucks still probably need an explosive young forward (if they draft a defenceman with the high pick I will flip tables) and should still probably be looking to bring in a veteran winger in free agency to give the team some added punch up top.
The real important thing is for those of you who have a shred of optimism for next season to not get too excited about the player with a 23% shooting percentage and a 111% PDO. It won’t last, and the heartbreak will be worse than if you come to terms with the fact now that the Canucks are still up the creek without a paddle if they don’t get a guy who can produce like Jensen, but sustainably.
And for all we know, that guy could be Jensen, once he gets a full camp as a pro, rounds out his game defensively and starts to take a few more shots on goal. But Jensen in his current form won’t be doing it this way for much longer. Enjoy it while it lasts.
WEEKEND WATCHABILITY INDEX
While there are now 46 reasons to watch the Vancouver Canucks, that does not preclude you from not having to watch the remainder of the exciting games. Using a formula to calculate a game’s impact on playoff chances, as well as severe watchability of the teams involved, here are the top five matchups of the weekend to keep an eye on.
Tampa Bay @ Pittsburgh – Saturday @ 10:00 a.m. PST
The hook: This is a pretty good hangover game to keep an eye on. The two best offensive players in the world are taking part (and maybe a third depending on where you place the Penguins) and both teams have hilarious defence and goaltending. Good game to kick off the weekend, if you wake up early enough to boot up the GameCentre.
Boston @ Colorado – Friday @ 6:00 p.m. PST
The hook: Tough to figure out a good hook to this game other than the fact we have two excellent, watchable teams who also happen to be two of the hottest in the NHL. The Bruins have won ten consecutive, and there’s always an outside chance of Patrick Roy putting on all four of his Stanley Cup rings and slugging Brad Marchand across the face.
St. Louis @ Philadelphia – Saturday @ 10:00 a.m. PST
The hook: Given what the Blues gave up for Ryan Miller, we’re just waiting around for them to slip up and make that trade look hilarious in retrospect, but unfortunately St. Louis are still winning games. Meanwhile, the Flyers are in the thick of the playoff race in the East and always seem to be prone to playing 5-4 or 6-5 hockey games. Bust open that Miller!
Toronto @ Montreal – Saturday @ 4:00 p.m. PST
The hook: Well, it’s free for those of us in Canada, which is always important, the two teams usually fail to play uninteresting hockey games against one another, it’s a big game for Eastern playoff positioning and both teams are always on the verge of losing 6 or 7-1 and sending their local media hordes into a frenzy.
NY Rangers @ Columbus – Friday @ 4:00 p.m. PST
The hook: RICK NASH RETURNS TO COLUMBUS! And also, the teams are tied with 78 points for third in the Metropolitan Division, meaning the loser of this game will also hold down the last wild card spot and one ahead of Washington. Blue Jackets fans have come back to life over the last 12 months and this will probably be a pretty loud game from a fanbase determined to let Nash know they’ve moved on to their younger, sexier girlfriend Ryan Johansen.
AND THE WORST GAME OF THE WEEK…
Buffalo @ Vancouver – Sunday @ 5:00 p.m. PST
The hook: Cody Hodgson has already made his return to Vancouver, so that can’t be fun. Of the weekend’s 22 games, this ranks 18th in playoff importance, and last for combined wins between the teams and neither team is particularly good offensively. I’ll probably skip the first period to watch the gold medal match of the women’s world curling championships.