1-on-1 with Jannik Hansen: on Nicklas Jensen’s growth, the Worlds and the ‘sacrifice’ of developing players at the NHL level

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – For Denmark’s Jannik Hansen, the 2015-16 hockey season has been one of his best to date.

Though his Vancouver Canucks struggled, the 29-year-old hit a career high with 22 goals, and his 38 points were one shy of his best-ever total.

After the NHL season wrapped up, Hansen headed to Russian to join up with Team Denmark for his sixth World Championship appearance. In seven preliminary-round games, Hansen tallied two goals and two assists as the Danes amassed a record of 2-2-1-2, good for 11 points. For just the second time in modern World Championship history, the Danes have advanced to the quarterfinal, finishing fourth in Group A, ahead of Switzerland and Latvia.

One day before facing Finland in Denmark’s quarterfinal game, Hansen walked me through Denmark’s impressive run, then talked about his season with the Canucks and what lies ahead in Vancouver.

CanucksArmy.com: First off, congratulations on Denmark’s successful run through the preliminary round.

Jannik Hansen: So far, so good. We’ve been here once before (in 2010), but it’s six years in the making now. Every time we even get close, it stirs up a lot emotions back home.

CA: Can you take me through your team’s progress during the preliminary round?

Hansen: We started out really well, actually. We beat Norway 3-0 in the first game, a team we’ve historically had a tough time beating. I know they beat them last year for the first time in a long time (editor’s note: Hansen wasn’t part of Denmark’s team in 2015), then we beat then again this year.

Then we ran into Sweden the following night. Lost 5-2. Took way too many penalties—I think they scored four out of five goals on the power play, so we kind of threw it away. We were right there until the end of the second.

Game 3 was against Switzerland. We were up 2-0. Again, a team we’ve never taken points from in a tournament like this. We did get one (point, in a 3-2 overtime loss), but we definitely think we should have gotten a couple more.

We were leading (by two goals) until 10 minutes left (in the third). You know the story, they get the tying goal with a couple of minutes left and they win in overtime. But again, it proved to be an important point to us.

From there, we moved on to Russia, which was kind of a wake-up call for us. I don’t know if we thought we were better than we were, but so far it’s our only bad game in the tournament. We didn’t look very good in that game. They went around us pretty much whatever way they wanted to. 10-1—there’s not a lot you can say.

The next day, we had Latvia, which was kind of a make-it-or-break-it game for us. If we lose that game, we’re talking survival instead of quarterfinal. We got the shootout win in that game (3-2). I think you guys saw the goals and whatnot, so it was very exciting for us as well.

Really, from the Russia game on, we’ve been playing some really, really good hockey. We beat Latvia, we beat the Czech Republic—a team we’ve beaten once before, in the shootout as well, but again, one of those teams…

CA: You’re the only team that has beaten the Czechs!

Hansen: So far! It’s a team that you don’t expect to compete with. I mean, you always want to, but they’ve been very dominating so far. They beat the Russians, who we obviously had a little bit of trouble with. (The Czech game is) a game where we’re neck-and-neck with the Swiss at that point. We lose that game, we have very little chance of getting to the quarters. But again, we get two points (a 2-1 shootout win) and all of a sudden, we can put a lot of pressure on Switzerland.

We do that the following night by beating Kazakhstan (4-1). Now we’re here!

CA

: How did the Czechs put together such an impressive preliminary-round record, and how were you able to beat them?

Hansen: I think they were lucky to play Russia early, to be honest. I know it’s different teams—sometimes they play good, sometimes they play bad. They’re always very good defensively, and if they get the lead, they’re hard to play against.

They got the lead against us and I think they kind of took their foot off the gas a little bit and kind of gave us a little more room to get around out there. We got a power play and all of a sudden it’s a tie game and—here we go.

Once you get to the third period and it’s a one-goal game, it doesn’t really matter how good your team is. It’s 20 minutes and every team at this level can compete with each other over a short span. We managed to drag it along and play into our strength—which, so far this tournament, has been the shootout. We have some excellent shooters and they proved it again.

CA: Nicklas Jensen has made headlines for his scoring in this tournament. Do you know him well from your time together with the Canucks organization?

Hansen: I absolutely do.

CA: Did you see his potential when you played with him before?

Hansen: I have never played with him earlier (with Denmark). I think I had one tournament with him here; I never played with him back in Denmark. I’ve only seen him, maybe 20 games or something like that (in Vancouver), spread out over three years, maybe.

He scored a very nice shootout goal against (Roberto Luongo) a couple of years back (a 5-4 Vancouver win over Florida in March of 2014). I think that was under Tortorella, so I knew he had that.

He’s always pegged as the goal scorer. He’s got a helluva shot. I mean, he’s proving it in this tournament – he’s scoring from everywhere.

CA: Jensen finished out his North American season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack after being traded away from the Canucks organization in January. Has he talked to you about how things have gone for him in Hartford?

It’s a fresh start. Sometimes guys kind of get into a rut and it’s hard to get out of. New guys coming in, and they’re going to get a look.

A breath of fresh air; whatever you say for him. I think he started playing really well after he got traded. His goals in Hartford (versus what he scored in Utica) were obviously a big difference as well.

He’s playing with a lot of confidence now. It’s one of those things, where a fresh set of eyes on you and you’re feeling like you’re right there, like you’re going to get a chance again.

CA: You’re one of the leaders on this Danish team…

…(laughing)… I dunno about that. I’m one of the older guys.

I’m not here enough to kind of be (a leader). We show up for two, two and a half, three weeks at the max at the end of the year. We’re not here for all the tournaments that they play throughout the year, so when we do come, we just kind of fit in.

It is a lot of the same guys—I’ve played with a lot of these guys throughout the year as well, so it’s not like you’re coming into a completely different team. You just kind of go along with the flow. Obviously, on the ice you try to lead with the play and stuff like that, but we have a very good leadership group in that dressing room that’s been around for a long time.

CA: Is there anyone in particular that your fans should be aware of as Denmark gets ready to face Finland in the quarterfinal?

Hansen: Nicklas (Jensen). He was also my bet before the (tournament) for leading scorer. He’s got a tremendous shot and can make things happen out of nowhere. (Nikolaj) Ehlers as well. He’s got another step to his game that not a lot of players—not only from Denmark but in the world—has. He’s shown it here.

CA: You’ve mostly been playing with Ehlers and Lars Eller in this tournament?

Yes, since Day 1. I think the coach kind of wanted us to get together. Whatever it might be, the way we play over here, it’s a little different. We’re adjusting at the same time. We rely on each other, fall back on each other; whatever it might be.

I think it’s worked out fairly well. We could have probably produced a bit more. We’ve had quite a few 5-on-3s that we haven’t excelled at. It’s kind of hurt us a little bit. It ended up hurting as much as it could have. Small things, but overall I think we’ve kind of fed off each other pretty well.

CA: What’s your role on the line?

Hansen: We’re not there. It’s not like we’re saying ‘We have a guy that does this and a guy that does that.’ It’s a lot more emotion here, short span, we’re obviously trying to create as much offense as we can.

The more we can kind of throw the puck the other way, kind of create some momentum—again, creating chances, feel like you’re in the game, you have a chance.

It’s the same thing whenever you’re sitting on the bench. Whenever your line has a good shift, you’re feeling, “We can play with these guys.” I think that’s one of our roles as a line, to kind of create that feeling throughout the team and on the bench. Yeah, we’re playing the Czechs today or Finland tomorrow, but we can play with these guys.

CA: You play on the power play here?

Hansen: (laughs) I do, I do….

CA: How’s that going?

Hansen: It’s a little different. I’m kind of just pegged in front of the net. Let the other two—they play a lot more power play than I do, so it’s worked out OK.

I mean, it could be better. Short time, I haven’t played a whole lot. Let’s let Nicklas and Lars do the creative stuff out there and try to create some havoc around the net.

CA: Congratulations on a great personal season during a not-so-great year for the Canucks.

Hansen: Thank you. We had a tough year.

CA: What did the management group tell you at the end of the season about the teams plans for you and plans for the future?

Obviously, they want to continue in the same direction. Get younger, turn over the roster, kind of get some new blood in. Build the team again through draft, free agency, whatever it might be.

There’s going to be a lot of change throughout the summer. We haven’t seen that yet, with the draft coming, free agency, who’s going, who’s staying. That’s tough for me to say right now.

They want to get younger. They want to start a new core group again that they can hopefully push to compete for the cup again. I mean, we were there and were probably on the way down. Hopefully, we hit the bottom this year and are starting to go the other way. You have to kind of wait and see the pieces that are there.

CA: I don’t know if you heard, Willie Desjardins was on the radio back in Vancouver the other day, but he said he thought the team lost its way this year because it tried to serve two masters: winning and developing players.

Hansen: It’s above my pay grade, if you want to put it that way. I can see that completely. You want to develop young guys, put them in a position to win. Obviously, young guys aren’t there yet, but there’s no way they’re going to get that experience without playing, so you’re sacrificing something, somewhere.

  • Riley Miner

    22 goals but great article nevertheless. I thought that was a pretty good review of Jensen both in this tournament and his increased production (15 goals and 25 points in 41 games in Hartford after 4 goals and 12 points in Utica) after the trade. I know we might wring our hands about him but I still think I’d rather have Etem who seems like a pretty hardworking and hustling player for whom the goals started to come by year’s end and who has always scored at a much higher rate in the AHL than Jensen. For Jensen to be successful he has to be in a top-six role – that he looked great in the few games with the Sedins just reminds me that they once made Jason King, Anson Carter and Peter Schaefer look good too. And not that I don’t love Hansen but it’s not like his career high in goals had nothing to do with his line mates this year…

  • So, I know that Travis Green seems to be a riser in the coaching world, and that he took the Comets to the Calder Cup Finals a couple of years ago (largely on the back of excellent goaltending by Markstrom, whom the Canucks’ goalie coaching has really set straight). But I have to say, the team’s inability to develop scoring talent in the AHL is pretty glaring, and I think at least some of that has to fall on Travis Green. To me, the Comets are there to groom players for the Canucks above all, and yet in Green’s tenure there, we have yet to see a single forward develop in the AHL and make an impact at the NHL level for the Canucks (Baertschi doesn’t count, since his grooming took place elsewhere). Jensen’s development stalled, despite his obvious talent, Shinkaruk was traded prematurely, perhaps, but may not have been were he being trained under a different coach. Gaunce and Vey are both seeing their projected ceiling potentials downgraded to something like 4th liners. Kenins, Grenier, Friesen were all lesser prospects, but all are now destined for the scrap heap and failed to make any real strides towards anything above a borderline 4th line spot in the NHL.

    I grant that some of this falls on drafting. But, the fact that ALL of the Canucks forward prospects sent to Utica have fallen or are in the process of falling short of expectations, even when those were modest, is pretty discouraging to me, and pretty damning of Green’s abilities as a coach in a feeder league, in my opinion.

    • It’s not as though Canuck prospects were developing prior to Green…

      Not since the era of Kesler, Burrows, Schneider, Edler, Hansen, Raymond & Grabner have the Canucks drafted/developed at a respectable rate.

      There are only 3 notable prospect graduates from the Gillis regime: Tanev, Horvat and Hutton…

      The latter two skipped the AHL altogether.

      What exactly do you expect Green to do with the Mallets of the world?

      It’s almost as though it was dumb to hire a GM with zero front office experience in general and zero scouting experience in particular…

    • One could argue that Shinkaruk was “developed” to the point of being a tradable asset.

      A year ago he looked like a pure bust with zero trade value.

      Gaunce has also taken a step forward even if he only projects as a third or fourth liner.

      If I remember correctly, when Shinkaruk was traded, he had only a slightly better chance of being an NHL regular than Pedan.

      Which is to say Pedan has “developed” to the point of being…something.

      It’s difficult to separate coaching ability if Green isn’t being given the appropriate prospects with which to work.

      Babcock’s reputation hasn’t been shattered this year.

      Yet there was very little development from young Maple Leafs at the NHL level under his watch.

      And they finished dead last.

      I would say the simplest explanation is that he did not have enough talent.

  • LOL at the idea the Canucks have ever drafted at a respectable rate.

    If Benning fixes the Canucks chronically poor drafting they should give him the key to the city irregardless of how many times they miss the playoffs…

  • Riley Miner

    The farm this year was absolutely atrocious; the worrying point for me is that Green/Conacher(GM of the Comets) decided to bring more PTO ECHLers instead of trying out guys like Valk, Blomstrand and Fox. I didn’t expect much of them obviously, but it would have been nice if they got a fair shake in the AHL, really only Valk got a sniff, and that was late in the season. I don’t think Travis Green is the amazing player development coach that people have painted him to be, but his work turning ECHL vets into guys that can contribute to an AHL lineup was very impressive, it’s an absolute surprise that they made the playoffs.

    Next year, should Green stay on, would be a much more telling year with guys like Stecher coming from UND, Valk graduating from the ECHL, Neill, Pettit(lol), Stewart and potentially McCann and Virtanen spending a lot of time in the farm, that should be an indicator of where they’re at. Not to mention Grenier is probably going to get waived, and somehow I have my doubts he’s claimed.

    The thing for me is that to compare Green’s development is to compare him to the Chicago Wolves or, much further back, the Manitoba Moose. It’s not holding him to much of a standard if you’re going to contrast his success to the Wolves, which were an outright disaster for the development of Rodin, Grenier, Shroeder, Mallet, Shirokov, Connauton, and the list goes on. This is the problem for me: we’re impressed by Green because practically the last decade has either been barren of any good prospects in the farm or with one of the worst AHL/NHL chemistry teams there’ll ever be, the Wolves were a disaster. So of course we think he’s amazing; we haven’t seen anything better than a slightly average AHL coach. I wouldn’t call him much more than just above average.