The Prospector: Nicklas Jensen, Alexandre Grenier, Dane Fox, and Cole Cassels

The Prospector is a semi-regular feature on Pass it to Bulis where we pan the Canucks prospects pool in search of gold.

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The Canucks have just 5 wins in 2014, but even as they were going on a massive losing streak heading into the Olympic break, they were still easily in the playoff picture. Sure, they were on the bubble, but all they needed was to come back from the break rejuvenated and ready to make a strong push to end the season and they were in.

Instead, the Canucks won one game, lost the next in the shootout, then dropped three straight in regulation, including losses to Phoenix and Dallas, both teams battling for the final wild card spot in the West. They’ve gone from being one point out of the playoffs to being four points out and in position for a top-ten pick at the 2014 entry draft.

It isn’t pretty and it has plenty of fans giving up on the current season and looking to the future. While we at PITB aren’t writing anything off just yet, we’re still going to take a look at that future, mainly because it’s nice to be positive about something related to the Canucks once in a while.

Nicklas Jensen scores goals, won’t will travel

Let’s start with the player on the minds of a lot of Canucks fans: Nicklas Jensen, who, while the Canucks can’t seem to put the puck in the net, is scoring goals by the bushelful in Utica. The Dane has 9 goals in his last 14 games and seems to have turned the corner from his rough start to the season that saw him pick up just two points in his first 16 games.

With Jensen finding the net with regularity, fans are frustrated that a role player like Darren Archibald got the call up when Daniel Sedin suffered a hamstring injury in the Heritage Classic, but it seems like a far better idea to keep Jensen on a roll in Utica on the top line than to send him into the pit of despair that is the Canucks current scoring woes.

At any rate, it’s nice to see Jensen developing as a player. He seems to be turning into a pure goalscorer, which is surprising given his more balanced point production in Junior. While playing for AIK in Sweden last season, he had a solid 17 goals, but just 6 assists. We attributed that to the team around him being one of the worst in the league, but the trend is continuing this season. He now has 15 goals this season, tied with Alexandre Grenier for second on the Comets, but has just 6 assists.

That said, I doubt Canucks fans will be upset about his lack of assists if Jensen can translate that goalscoring to the NHL. The Canucks could certainly use a sniper.

I put together this brief highlight package for Jensen from his goals this season. I couldn’t find video of all his goals, regrettably, and the quality is questionable on some of them, but you can get an idea of his strengths, namely the quick release and accuracy of his wristshot, particularly from the left faceoff circle. But he scores goals in multiple ways, including out-battling opponents around the net.

You’ll notice the penalty shot early in the video is echoed by the exact same move at the end. Jensen is very fond of his variation of the Forsberg deke. He pulled the same move with the Chicago Wolves last season after he finished his season in Sweden. Jensen’s version of the move, particularly his two with the Comets this season, is a lot slower than Forsberg’s version and involves more quick stickhandling.

Watching the way he shoots the puck, you have to wonder just how much his pre-season shoulder injury impacted his start with the Comets. What’s most impressive to me is his sheer number of shots. He has 141 this season, behind only Benn Ferriero on the Comets, and has been especially impressive in 2014, with 94 shots in 28 games, an average of 3.36 shots per game.

But it’s entirely possible that you won’t see him in a Canucks jersey this season.

Incredibly, in the time between writing and publishing this post, the Canucks announced that they were calling up Jensen. Welp.

Unsung Alexandre Grenier

Like Jensen, Alexandre Grenier has 15 goals this season, but also has 17 assists, placing him at third on the Comets in points behind veterans Pascal Pelletier and Benn Ferriero. That’s very respectable production from the 22-year-old, who has been far more consistent than Jensen, and a key player on the top line.

The 6’4″ Grenier had a particularly good January, with 10 points in 13 games, but slowed in February and has been out since February 21st with an injury. You can see a little of what the big man is capable of in this highlight reel, showcasing both his ability to out-battle opponents with his size and to find soft spots in defensive zone coverage to use his shot.

If he was healthy, I’d be calling for him to get a call up to the Canucks right now, just to see what he can do against NHL competition and I’m less worried about what an NHL stint would do to his development.

Dane Fox keeps racking up goals

After 5 games without a goal, Fox is starting another point streak, with 3 goals and 2 assists in his last 3 games. He’s not scoring at better than a goal-per-game anymore, but still has 59 goals in 62 games, 13 ahead of the next best goal-scorer in the OHL. He also has 39 assists, bringing him up to 98 points, second behind teammate Connor Brown in points in the OHL.

He’s having such a good season that he broke the Erie Otters record for goals in a season a month ago. Fox has 5 games left to reach 60 goals and 100 points. It’s hard to imagine him not reaching those milestones, particularly with the level of skill he shows on goals like this one:

Holy geez, that’s good.

There’s always the caveat with Fox that he’s doing this as an overager, but that is still some mightily impressive production, even if he’s 20 years old. Another cause for concern is that he’s slowed down a bit over the last month, with only 7 goals and 4 assists in his last 13 games, but it was still consistent production, with never more than one game between points. In fact, the longest Fox has gone without a point this season is three games and it happened just once.

Signing Fox was a roll of the dice, as it’s entirely possible that he won’t be able to make the jump to the NHL, but it was a die worth rolling.

Cole Cassels is going streaking

We paid pretty close attention to Cassels at the start of the season, as he came out flying, putting up 27 points in his first 18 games, including a 4-goal game. He hasn’t caught our attention as much since, but he’s still scoring at an impressive pace.

Cassels is currently on a 9-game point streak that started with 5 goals in 5 games before he switched over to piling up assists. He has 14 points in those 9 games bringing him up to 70 on the season, tied with none other than Bo Horvat for 24th in the OHL. His 47 assists are good for 18th in the OHL.

What’s most impressive is that Cassels was not lauded for his offensive ability heading into the 2013 draft, but was praised instead for his all-around ability, but in particular his two-way, defensive, agitating qualities. The Canucks have to be happy with how the offensive side of his game has progressed, particularly as a playmaker.

This is a nice little profile and interview on Cassels, with a few highlights sprinkled in.

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10 comments

  1. BD
    March 7, 2014

    Also note that the Swedish league Jensen played in doesn’t t count secondary assists.

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  2. Alan
    March 7, 2014

    Thanks for making me feel better! :)

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  3. Chris the Curmudgeon
    March 8, 2014

    So what’s the over/under on how many young players currently in the AHL or below will make the Canucks next year? 1?

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    • bluemoonjones
      March 8, 2014

      If I was setting that over/under line in Vegas, I’d like 3.
      I want it to be higher, but so much depends on whether or not there’s a regime change; if new (and less conservative) management comes in, then this number could well be 5. But as it is, even if the stodgy Gillis is still calling the shots, you gotta think that at least 3 out of the 4 that are Jensen, Horvat, Gaunce and Shinkaruk will be on the team for certain.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        March 8, 2014

        I’m assuming we’re talking about the opening night roster, as we’ve seen plenty of young AHL players in the lineup this season due to injuries.

        Jensen, Horvat, Gaunce, and Shinkaruk are the favourites to make the team, but you’re also forgetting Corrado, who should have a real shot at making the opening night roster, particularly if a defenceman gets traded in the off-season. There’s room for role players like Kellan Lain or Darren Archibald (if he counts, since he’s up with the Canucks right now) and someone like Ronalds Kenins, Dane Fox, or Cole Cassels could surprise. If Joacim Ericsson outbattles Jacob Markstrom in camp, he could be the backup.

        I’d say 2.5 as the over/under is fair. I would personally bet the over. I see Jensen, Horvat, and Corrado on the roster to start next season.

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        • Chris the Curmudgeon
          March 10, 2014

          Hmm, I guess that sounds about right. So, figure an opening day lineup something like
          Sedin-Sedin-Burrows
          Jensen-Matthias-Higgins
          Hansen-Horvat-Kassian
          Schroeder-Richardson-Lain

          Hamhuis-Tanev
          Garrison-Corrado
          Bieksa-Stanton

          Lack
          Markstrom

          This assumes a Kesler trade, a Booth buy out, an Edler trade (obviously no given, just a thought), and that no free agents are signed and no proceeds from any of those trades make the opening night lineup. I don’t think that lineup makes the playoffs, but at least it’s a step towards rejuvenation.

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          • CONNOR
            March 16, 2014

            I don’t see mathias being anything more than a 3rd line center. Interesting that Shinkaruk isn’t on the team. But by looking at your lineup, it makes sense for him to start in the minors. Still wish Kassian would get a more prominent role

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            • HENDO
              March 19, 2014

              If Mathias is C2 we are in trouble.

              Sedin-Sedin-Jensen/Burr
              Higg-Kes-Burr/Jensen
              Horvat-Santoreli-Hansen
              Richardson-Mathias-Kassian

              Hammer-Bieksa
              Edler-Garry
              Stanton-Tanev

              Lack-Markstom

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  4. bluemoonjones
    March 9, 2014

    Yeah, I definitely hear you on Corrado – I guess I’m just in an “offence” state of mind these days (I wonder why… sigh…), so I think first of the potential goal scoring that’s being groomed down there in the minors.

    I’ve watched a lot of other teams play this year (I wonder why, part II) and can’t help but notice how so many teams have at least 1 “prospect” in his late teens getting fairly regular playing time. But not the Canucks; heaven’s no, not the Canucks…

    But that said, I’m also with you on betting the over next September. Heck, I’d be tempted to bet the over if the line was 4.5, because I just don’t see Vancouver having any choice but to play a lot of youngsters next season – unless they overfill their roster via trades and free agency this off-season with a bunch more “NHL experienced” 3rd and 4th liners… which surely they won’t do, right? right?

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    • bluemoonjones
      March 9, 2014

      Ooops that was supposed to be a reply to you, Daniel…
      And since I’m back here: thanks for these prospect updates that you’ve provided this season…

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