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.
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.Tags: AV Loves Jensen, frothing over prospects, Nicklas Jensen, Training Camp, Wild Speculation