The Vancouver Canucks have only one prospect playing in the World Junior Championship this year, but they will still be well-represented. Their one prospect in the tournament is 18-year-old Nicklas Jensen, their 2011 first round draft pick, and he is easily Denmark’s most important player.
The young Dane was very impressive for the Canucks during the Young Stars Tournament in September. He was frequently the best player on the ice, using his size, poise, and skill to create numerous scoring opportunities. The Canucks’ organization like his performance as well: Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman felt that he was the Canucks’ best player at the tournament and he continued his strong play into the pre-season.
Jensen scored 3 points during the pre-season, tying for the team lead in points, but doing so in just 4 games as compared to 7 for Cody Hodgson and 5 for Marco Sturm and Jordan Schroeder, who both also had 3 points. He had Canucks fans very excited and had us at PITB thinking that he might make the team out of training camp, if only to get the maximum 9-game stint to not burn a year on his contract.
That belief was boosted by the high praise Alain Vigneault gave the young prospect, who used very un-Vigneault-like terms like “love,” “impressed,” and “enthusiastic.”
“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.”
[...]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.
With both Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond out to start the year, it was thought that there might be room for Jensen to get an NHL audition, but he was instead sent back to Oshawa Generals of the OHL. He’s making the most of his time there, leading the Generals in scoring this season with 35 points in 30 games.
Jensen is the standout star of Denmark’s entry in the World Junior Championship after being one of the main reasons they were able to promote from Division I to the top level of the tournament last year. The Danish team is in a tough group that includes perennial medal favourites Canada, the United States, and Finland, as well as the always-tough Czech Republic, and Jensen is one of the few recognizable names on the roster. But he denies that Denmark is a one-player team, as suggested by a Canadian radio commentator recently.
Denmark will have to play strong team defence if they want to avoid relegation, their main goal in this tournament, and Jensen knows it, as he has deflected attention to his teammates. The team practised together in Ontario during the summer, hoping to gel together as a unit, where many of the other teams will have a shorter period of time to get used to each other.
That humility sounds completely in character for Jensen, who I got the chance to speak to in September. While he has plenty of confidence, it’s a quiet confidence that is match with a humble nature and a gratefulness for the opportunities he has been given.
Still, if Denmark is going to have any success in this tournament, Jensen will have to lead the way. Denmark plays its first game today, Monday, at 5:00 PM Pacific (just an hour and a half away) against the United States. The game will be shown on TSN2. While the Danes will be hard-pressed to beat the States, it’s an opportunity to see how Jensen stacks up against some of the best players in the world in his age group.
One other Canucks prospect was a late cut from his national team: goaltender Jonathan Iilahti attended Finland’s camp but did not make the team.
Edit: I initially misreported that Jensen was Denmark’s captain based on a WJC preview article. Turns out he isn’t. My apologies.Tags: Jonathan Iilahti, Nicklas Jensen, Prospects, World Junior