Canucks hope they’ve found another great Dane in Jensen
ST. PAUL, Minnesota — There were the Chicken Swedes. And then the Cream Danishes.
Those hockey stereotypes were often applied to European birth certificates, but one look at Nicklas Jensen and his statistics are enough to wipe the slate clean of dated pre-judgments.
With a North American hockey lineage from a father who played junior in Peterborough and Guelph and a North American style game, the power forward was selected 29th overall by the Vancouver Canucks on Friday at the NHL entry draft for good reason. He’s big. He’s strong. He scores.
“I can’t really explain how happy I am right now,” said Jensen, a native of the city of Herning that has a population of 46,000. “I see myself as a power forward and goal scorer who protects the puck well. There’s a lot of hard work in front of me now and I’m willing to do that. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance and make it happen as soon as possible.”
With 29 goals and 58 points in his first Ontario Hockey League season with Oshawa, the six-foot-two, 202-pound winger made a quick transition to the smaller ice surface and is carrying on a growing tradition that Danes can play the game with a nose for the net and a chip on their shoulders. Jannik Hansen has done that with the Canucks, while first-round pick Mikkel Boedker of the Phoenix Coyotes and third-rounder Peter Regin of the Ottawa Senators can also hold their own.
Hansen was the 284th pick in the 2008 draft and has raised his game to a point where the restricted free agent was probably the Canucks’ unsung hero this season.
“I know about being a European and maybe you get pushed around with the Canadian or American guys here — but I don’t see myself as that,” said Jensen, who had five points in five games for Denmark at the world junior championship. “We can easily step up for ourselves and we might be known as the small, skilled guys but there are a lot of big Europeans now and we can definitely use our size.
“Some come up to you and call you a little Euro-thing, but that’s just hockey. That’s all over the place, even in Europe. I don’t see myself as a fighter. I don’t need to drop my gloves and have a fight. I can play a physical game. In Denmark, we don’t have the most physical game and this worked out good and I’m a pretty big kid and can do that.”
That’s music to the Canucks’ ears. While they have prospects who either possess skill or size, they don’t really have a combination of both. Some scouts said there are issues with Jensen’s skating, but it’s good enough to contribute at the NHL level and can always been worked on. It’s the skill and will that’s tough to find. Or teach.
If bloodlines mean anything, then Jensen has a leg up on many of his draft peers. His father, Dan, played three OHL seasons and represented his country 10 times. He’s from Toronto and moved to soccer-mad Denmark, where he met his wife. And when Nicklas met hockey, it was love at first flight.
“As soon as I put the skates on and stepped on the ice, I just loved the sport,” he said. “Soccer is the main sport in Denmark and I played until 14. But it was just a little summer hobby for me.”
Jensen is so proud of his hockey heritage that he wouldn’t think of playing for Canada even though his father was born here. In fact, he feels like another trailblazer for a country that’s in a more prominent position on the global hockey map.
“Ever since players started moving out of Denmark to Sweden and playing in the NHL, the sport of hockey just got a lot bigger and you’re always proud to represent your country and actually getting drafted,” he added. “I’m really proud of being a Dane. I see myself as a Dane and it’s not right for me to move to the Canadian national team.”
Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman knows power forwards don’t grow on trees and it’s a commodity everybody wants. And if he develops like Hansen, then it’s just another asset that the Canucks need to keep stockpiling. Being another driven Dane doesn’t hurt either.
“The fact he’s Danish is actually a pleasant coincidence,” said Gilman, who said the Canucks fielded some calls about moving up or down in the draft order but nothing materialized. “He made the decision to come over and play in a tough league and he excelled and played well physically. He has a really good release and good offensive instincts and those are the skills we’re looking for as we build our team as we build our team.
“We look at character and work ethic and he scored well in both.”
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