Considering that the last 18-year-old to make the Canucks was Petr Nedved in 1990, it’s probably safe to say that 29th overall pick Nicklas Jensen is a longshot to win a spot on the roster come opening night. But if you’ve seen Jensen play, and, moreover, if you’ve been keeping up with Alain Vigneault’s praise for the kid, it might not be as far-fetched as you think.

Here’s Alain Vigneault, upon being asked about Jensen’s play last Saturday. From Elliott Pap:

 “Love him,” said Coach V with an enormous grin. “I mean, I was waiting for somebody to ask me a question about him. There’s a young man that, from what I’ve seen so far, has a tremendous amount of upside. No fear. He just goes out and plays and I’m really happy the organization was able to come to terms with him.”

[...] Now it’s our responsibility to develop him,” Vigneault said. “There is so much upside there and you just can’t buy that size and skill. We’ll do everything we can to help him become the best player he can be.”

And here’s Vigneault from the postgame of Sunday night’s loss to the San Jose Sharks. From Ben Kuzma:

 ”Both those guys [Hodgson, Schroeder] I was expecting they could handle it, but the young man who has impressed me more in terms of handling the workload is Jensen,” Vigneault said of the Danish winger who had an assist and four shots in 18: 18 of ice time. “He went to Penticton [prospects camp] and played three games, came here and [was] put through the paces and hasn’t missed a beat.

“We’ve got a very good kid there and we’ve got to do everything we can to develop him the right way.”

Which means Jensen could get a longer look. “I’m enthusiastic right now,” added Vigneault.

On Monday morning, Matt Sekeres wrote on Jensen being the most pleasant surprise at Canucks’ training camp, and on this, I wholeheartedly agree. But Sekeres also wrote that Jensen is expected to be returned to the Oshawa Generals at the end of training camp. On this point, I’m not so sure.

Alain Vigneault is in his sixth year as the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, and he has never raved about a prospect like this. Heck, on Sunday night, he raved about Jensen over Hodgson, and Hodgson is likely making the team. Furthermore, past first-round picks such as Hodgson and Luc Bourdon came close to cracking the lineup out of their first training camp, yet Vigneault’s praise for them was nowhere near as enthusiastic or effusive as it’s been for Jensen.

Presumably, the Danish winger has impressed the Canucks’ coach far more than any other 18-year-old Vigneault has seen at a Vancouver camp, so if Hodgson and Bourdon were close, Jensen has to be close as well.

Still, it’s Vigneault’s insistence on proper development — a point that appears in both quotes — that raises the eyebrow.

This photo is hilarious to me and I'm not sure why.

Clearly, he and the rest of the Canucks’ coaching staff believe they have something very special in Jensen, and it’s therefore vital to ensure the kid develops the right way. But, considering what happened to Cody Hodgson and Luc Bourdon when they were returned to juniors — where they showed up for training camp the following year less NHL-ready  – you wonder if Vigneault is willing to let Jensen out of his sight.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Jensen is about to be given a permanent spot in the Canucks’ lineup, but do I think it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he gets at least nine NHL games with the team (the maximum amount before he burns a year on his entry-level deal) before he’s returned to the OHL.

That said, it still seems somewhat unlikely, especially considering the depth the Canucks have at the forward position. Where would they play him? At this point, I think Cody Hodgson is a probably safe bet to start the season on the second line. He’s outplayed Andrew Ebbett and there’s really no one else, unless Jordan Schroeder makes a late push. But, Schroeder or Hodgson, there’s no way Vigneault plays two rookies on the line. That means that, with the personnel on the top line a foregone conclusion, if Jensen were to be kept up with the team to start the year, he’d have to fit somewhere in the bottom six.

Is Jensen a dark horse for one of the open fourth line winger spots? Don’t scoff: he’s already the right size.

Another possibility might be that the Canucks drop Chris Higgins down to the fourth line to play with Maxim Lapierre, and try Jensen on the third line with Manny Malhotra and Jannik Hansen. That much-ballyhooed Danish connection could come together sooner than expected.

Jensen remains a longshot, but he might be closer than you think. We’ll know in a week.

 

Big thanks to Thomas Drance on fact-checking that opening line. If it’s incorrect, his is the head you want.

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7 comments

  1. peanutflower
    September 26, 2011

    the photo is hilarious because his shirt is just too dang small and it looks like he has man boobs. Manly man boobs, to be sure. I would be willing to bet he stays with the team. Honestly, and I’m not much of a Cody-lover, I like Jensen better. He’s more physical, he’s bigger (isn’t he?) He just seems like he’s out there having a great time and nothing is bugging him, unlike Hodgson who always seems to be trying way too hard. That is a totally subjective less than hockey astute comment, for which I’m sorry.

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  2. George Stevens
    September 26, 2011

    Re: the photo of Jensen

    It’s hilarious because of the moobs.

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  3. James W
    September 26, 2011

    Personally, I think the opening day forwards looks like this:

    Sedin-Sedin-Burrows
    Sturm-Hodgson-Samuelsson
    Higgins-Malhotra-Hansen
    Jensen-Lapierre-Oreskovich

    I think Jensen will get the 9 game stint. He could be used as part of the Raymond stop gap. I think Volpatti or Pinizziotto (if healthy) will then take the spot until Raymond is healthy. When Kesler comes back, if Hodgson impressed enough, I could actually see him playing on Kesler’s wing as an experiment.

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    • Rituro
      September 26, 2011

      Yep, that’s more or less the line combination I was penciling in, too. I will admit my biggest concern is the potential for the second line to fail and fail hard compared to the others.

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  4. JS Topher
    September 26, 2011

    Sedin-Sedin-Jensen
    Sturm-Hodgson-Burrows
    Sammy-Malhotra-Hansen
    Huggins-Lapierre-Oreo

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this. Now, let’s get real, anyone posting this on CDC would get flamed but, you guys are all sensible people here. So please allow me to explain.
    Realistically, the wingers are all pretty interchangable and consider that this is really an extended testing period. With all of the injury troubles we’re having, I don’t see any reason why AV won’t be switching it up like a mad scientist regardless of Jensen. This way, Jensen gets a chance to play with some true star players. No matter if its Burrows and Sturm, or Sammy and Burrows, or even Sammy and Sturm with Burr on the 3rd, Hodgson gets to pass it around to some solid vets with solid hockey smarts. Sounds like a pretty sweet learning.testing experience for all involved.

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  5. JDM
    September 27, 2011

    Yeah sorry bud but you’re getting flamed here too. Burr is playing with the Sedins. There is no chance, none, that they move him off that line for a rookie. Hell, there’s no chance they move him off that line, period.

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  6. Hips
    September 27, 2011

    @JDM did you watch the playoffs ?

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