Nicklas Jensen isn’t the best-known Dane who plays for Vancouver. That honour belongs to Jannik Hansen. But the 21-year-old from Herning is on the rise.
With the Canucks out of the NHL playoffs, both Jensen and Hansen will suit up for Denmark at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus. Jensen, who tallied three goals and three assists in 17 games as an NHL rookie, thinks highly of his fellow countryman, even if they don’t get to hang out together as much in the 2010 Olympic city as you might imagine.
“Jannik’s got twins and he’s busy a lot,” Jensen told IIHF.com. “But it’s great to have a countryman in the same dressing room. Even once in a while speaking your own language, getting to talk about home and stuff like that is nice. To have a guy like that is a big help, especially for a young guy coming in.”
While Hansen, 28, has 389 NHL games and a trip to Game Seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup final under his belt, Jensen is still establishing himself in both pro and international hockey. He was only drafted from the OHL's Oshawa Generals in 2011 (29th overall).
The 191-cm, 92-kg winger needs more consistency. Although blessed with a tremendous wrist shot, he didn’t score a goal with the AHL’s Utica Comets until December 15, and five of his six points with Vancouver came in his first seven games after being called up on March 7.
Late in the season, Canucks coach John Tortorella spoke highly of Jensen’s skating and “gumption” as a playmaker, although he added that defensively, “Nick has got to respect the league a little bit.”
Down the stretch, Jensen frequently played right wing on Vancouver’s top line with former NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin. In 2013, the twin Swedish superstars keyed Tre Kronor to the first World Championship gold medal for a host team in 27 years in Stockholm.
Even though Henrik’s 50 points and Daniel’s 47 points this season were well below their usual rate of production, Jensen still appreciated the privilege of teaming up with the Sedins.
“It’s amazing,” said Jensen. “They’re so unique in this league. They’re so skilled, two of the best players in the world. It’s pretty neat and you learn so much playing with them.”
This budding power forward had some important learning experiences with the Danish Lions last year. The most difficult one came at the Olympic qualification tournament. In the crucial game, the host Danes fell 2-1 to Slovenia. Denmark, which has competed in the elite division of the World Championship since 2003, justifiably felt that it should have defeated the Slovenes, who sat 18th in the IIHF World Ranking at the time. Per Backman, then coach of the national team, described it as a “depressing loss”.
“We were so close,” said Jensen, who went pointless in two games at the SE Arena in Vojens. “So obviously it was one of the toughest losses I’ve ever played in. It would have been pretty neat to have the chance to play in the Olympics. But we just gotta focus on what it is. We’ll hopefully get a chance next time.”
Jensen stepped up his game in his World Championship debut three months later. He scored Denmark’s lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Switzerland, and followed that up with the 2-0 goal in a 3-2 win over Belarus.
Maybe some of Jensen’s streaky play can be attributed to an early, formative association with a 1980’s Vancouver scoring star. Finnish winger Petri Skriko was a four-time 30-goal man for the Canucks. In November 1986, Skriko registered three hat tricks in eight days. Not surprisingly, his nickname was “Streak”, and when his NHL career ended in 1993, the Lappeenranta native took his talents to Jensen’s native Herning. He tore up the Danish league for six seasons and then coached Herning for two more.
“He played with my dad [Dan], so I was always in the dressing room,” Jensen recalled. “Petri’s son and I grew up together during those years. It’s pretty neat, knowing that he was here [in Vancouver] too and he did so well here. He was so skilled and good when he played in Denmark too. It’s a small world.”
At the Worlds, Jensen has a chance to establish himself as a top-six scoring threat under new national team head coach Janne Karlsson. The squad in Minsk will need all the offensive help it can get, as Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders, Denmark’s leading NHL scorer with 58 points, has been ruled out with a wrist injury.
Still, there’s some reason for optimism. After all, Denmark’s best-ever World Championship finish (eighth) came in the last Olympic year (2010), and this small Scandinavian nation may be able to take advantage of some unsuspecting or undermanned Group A foes at the Chizhovka-Arena with more NHL players on its roster than ever.
“I think we have a great team, and we’re getting better and better as a country, even in the juniors,” Jensen said. “We set high standards, and we go into the tournament with open minds: one game at a time. We want to do well and make a good name for ourselves.”