In his three years since being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, Nicklas Jensen has never slipped outside the top five of Canucks Army’s annual prospect rankings. As recently as a year ago, Jensen registered as high as fifth.
Whether this was an indictment of the dearth of prospects within the Canucks stable (it was) or a testament to Jensen’s potential (that too), it bears mentioning as we reflect on a development trend that’s taken a turn for the worse over the past year.
Selected 29th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Jensen is running out of time to show his mettle as an everyday-caliber NHL player. Jensen also happens to check in at eleventh in our organizational prospect rankings!
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, Jensen comes with the requisite size to play an uptempo power forward type of game. Combined with his elite straight-line speed and quick release, it was reasonable to project as much from the Danish import with a certain degree of sincerity. What’s more, Jensen’s physical maturity and plus offense shot loaned itself well to an expedited start to his professional career. Jensen’s draft+1 campaign served him a cup of coffee with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL; in the following year he played for AIK in the SHL (and lit it up) and then suited up with the Canucks for a few games.
That Jensen acquitted himself well in competition with adults so early in his career was a positive omen for his potential development into a bona fide NHL forward. This much was reflected in his PCS scores over that span, which projected Jensen as having as high as a one-in-four chance of making the NHL – given his status as a late first round selection, that’s a good number.
Worth noting though, is that as his likelihood of developing into an NHL player as increased, the likelihood of his development into an impact player has stagnated (based on a historical statistical analysis of comparable players). Interestingly enough, these developments fall in line with observations made by his head coach with Utica Comets last season, Travis Green.
— Matthew Sekeres (@mattsekeres) May 22, 2015
Which line up nicely with comments made by the head honcho, Jim Benning…
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) May 22, 2015
These comments speak volumes of where Jensen sits with the current regime – farm and big leagues alike. There seems to be an organizational emphasis placed on developing Jensen into a two-way force, not entirely dissimilar to his shorter Danish counterpart within the organization, Jannik Hansen. This goes a long way in explaining the frequent healthy scratches and Jensen’s inability to gain any sort of traction within the pro ranks with the Canucks franchise.
There’s merit to be found in transitioning Jensen’s game to that of a grinding bottom-six force. In three consecutive seasons in the AHL, his production hasn’t hit the level suggestive of a future top-six scoring forward. There remains a skill set worth working with though, and we might reasonably imagine that this is the plan that the Canucks have in mind.
The plan likely begins with getting Jensen more physically engaged – easy enough, right? This plan of attack worked wonders with Alexandre Grenier last season. If the Zack Kassian saga taught us anything, it’s that the Canucks will not stand for gentle giants.
Valuable context needs to be added to the equation though, to draw the clearest picture of where Jensen’s development sits. His production – while far from earth shattering – has been strong enough that he hasn’t necessarily sunk his chances of developing into a full-time NHL forward by any stretch. It just mitigates the extent to which we can realistically project his ability at the next level.
As we trumpet so regularly in this space, there is a massive difference between bad and disappointing. You’ll get no argument that these last two years have fallen firmly in the latter camp, but there is hope all the same. Statistically speaking, there are several very encouraging indicators of potential for NHL success.
(Fixed: Mis-typed a value) The AHL regular -> NHL regular graduation rates by age are in the chart pic.twitter.com/1fY8FMYovV
— AGM Josh Weissbrod (@joshweissbock) July 20, 2015
Of course, there will be no larger obstacle to Jensen’s advancement into the NHL than the club’s roster itself. There are very few openings within the Canucks ranks and barring a set of trades or injuries, I would expect it to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Frankly, given the extended stays in the press box throughout the Comets’ playoff run, I’d suggest he focus on consolidating a spot with their lineup first. Baby steps and the like.
— AHL (@TheAHL) June 7, 2015