QUEBEC CITY – As a Vancouver Canucks prospect, Jannik Hansen is expected to provide solid two-way play, with speed, grit, and a little scoring at the NHL level. As a forward for Denmark at the 2008 IIHF World Championship, he’s got a bigger role.
The 22-year-old right wing showed he’s up to the challenge in Denmark’s opener, a 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic. Skating alongside fellow 22-year-old Peter Regin and Kaspar Degn (the greybeard of the line at age 26), Hansen scored a slick first-period goal, driving to the net and beating Milan Hnilicka glove side. Entering this tournament, he had two goals in 10 previous World Championship games (2005, 2006). It’s something he’ll look to build upon heading into Sunday’s crucial Group D game against Italy.
“They play a little rougher style,” Hansen said of the Italians. “We’ve played them before, so we know what to expect from them. We know they’re going to come hard at us. But it’s also a matter of them having to adjust to our style, and we hope we’ll be able to dictate the game a little more.”
Hansen believes special teams could make the difference for the red-and-white squad coached by Mike Sirant. Power play production has long been a cornerstone of Denmark’s offence.
“We didn’t have that many chances yesterday against the Czechs, because they had more puck possession than us,” Hansen said. “With more puck possession comes more opportunities, so hopefully we can make Italy take a few penalties and capitalize on that.”
The 181-cm, 91-kg product of the Rodovre Mighty Bulls system has learned to take advantage of opportunities wherever they arise. The Canucks drafted him in the ninth round (287th overall) in 2004, and few would have guessed back then he’d become the first Dane ever to participate in the NHL playoffs and record a point (one assist in 10 games in 2007). He’s one of the bright lights in a rising Danish youth movement that also includes the likes of Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders; Lars Eller, a 2007 first-round draft choice (13th overall) of the St. Louis Blues; and the 2008 draft-eligible Mikkel Boedker of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.
In Hansen’s second season with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, his development could have stalled after he suffered through a broken thumb and a concussion, which limited him to 50 games. But instead, his production increased to 43 points this year, compared to 34 in his rookie campaign.
“Obviously I didn’t enjoy sitting out [with the injuries], but after getting back healthy and getting some games under my skates, I felt like I took a step in the right direction,” Hansen said. “I became a more reliable guy that the Manitoba coaches knew they could count on late in the games. When the coaches trust you, your ice time increases, and that was a step I was hoping to take before the season started.”
In his quest to improve, the Herlev native has genetics on his side, as his father Bent Hansen is considered a Danish hockey legend. The younger Hansen is now expanding the family’s hockey legacy by playing in a World Championship that coincides with the IIHF’s 100th anniversary. But he’s taking it all in stride.
“Playing in these tournaments is always big. To me, it doesn’t really matter if it’s 99 or 101. Being in Canada makes it a little more special, because it’s hockey’s home country. It’s nice to be here.”
After the tournament ends, Hansen will focus on preparing for training camp in the fall with Vancouver. The club fired GM Dave Nonis last month, promptly replacing him with former NHLer and player agent Mike Gillis, but Hansen isn’t preoccupied by the shuffles upstairs.
“It happened midway through our [AHL] playoffs. I’m not worrying about it. I’m just trying to play. For now, it’s still the same guys around the team. They still know the guys they have there. Yes, there’s a new GM, but there’ll be opportunities when training camp starts in September.”