Canucks have broken wings
With Booth and Kassian out, Vancouver may need to call up untested 20-year-old Nicklas Jensen
A wing and a prayer. It has come to this for the Vancouver Canucks.
Versatile winger Chris Higgins was centring David Booth and Zack Kassian last week. On Monday, in yet another first-place divisional showdown against the rejuvenated Minnesota Wild, Higgins might be in the middle or on wing as the confounding Canucks try to figure out this injury-bug thing.
The loss of the struggling Booth and Kassian to left ankle and back injuries respectively — and an unsure timeline for their return — means the best recall option may be for the 20-year-old Nicklas Jensen to make his NHL debut.
Billy Sweatt, 22, could have warranted consideration with a dozen goals but was injured Friday. Jordan Schroeder, normally a centre, has played wing for the Chicago Wolves this AHL season so he also could be called up.
One concern with Jensen is if he stays and plays six NHL regular-season games, it affects the contract-slide gain the Canucks received by re-assigning the Dane to the Wolves so his entry-level deal would commence next season. It kicks in if he plays more than five NHL games in this shortened season.
In that respect, the Canucks could keep Jensen for five games to see where his game is at, send him back to the Wolves and then add the winger to their expanded playoff roster. Regardless, a recall would also give the roller-coaster Canucks a jolt of youthful exuberance. The 2011 first-round draft choice has played just five games with the Wolves this season after collecting 17 goals in 50 games with AIK Stockholm of the Swedish Elite League.
And as much as Jensen needs time to re-acclimate to the North American ice surface, he made an immediate impact with goals in consecutive AHL games. Still, the fact the Canucks may need a kid like Jensen makes you wonder about organizational depth.
The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Jensen went pointless and shotless Sunday in a 2-1 loss to Rockford while Schroeder had an assist and four shots. Jensen may be best served as a third-line NHL winger for now and second power-play unit consideration. He battles well for pucks, takes them to the net, is hard to move and has good finish.
“He could help an NHL team offensively right away,” said Dave Gagner, the Canucks director of player development. “He just has to prove to our coaching staff that he’s capable of doing the little things well and he could be a specialty guy right away.”
Jensen had four goals in six regular-season games with the Wolves last spring — including a hat trick — and two goals in two playoff games before suffering a concussion. He played pro in Denmark and was rookie of the year even before venturing to the OHL for two seasons in Oshawa where he had 25 goal in 57 games last season.
Meanwhile, Booth suffered a left ankle injury late in the first period Saturday from an end-boards entanglement and left Rogers Arena on crutches and with his left foot in a walking boot. He was to have an MRI (magnetic resonance image) Monday but Alain Vigneault said he “expected Booth to be out for a while.”
Kassian’s back has flared up and it could be the discomfort he felt before training camp. He injured a facet joint, which is any one of four projections that link one vertebra of the spine to an adjacent vertebra while playing with the Wolves during the NHL lockout. Kassian, who’s medical condition is listed as day-to-day, has five goals and hasn’t scored in 19. Booth has one empty-net goal in a dozen outings.
It won’t matter who is and isn’t playing Monday if the 0-for-30 power-play funk continues against the Wild who have gone on an 11-5-1 run — and won four of their last five — since losing 4-1 at home to the Canucks on Feb. 7. Another turnover-happy performance like the 5-2 loss to Detroit on Saturday and more than a fifth consecutive Northwest Division title could be in jeopardy. Especially if there’s another spotty goaltending performance in the club’s uneven 5-6-4 run after a six-game win streak. The Canucks only trailed the Wings 2-1 after 40 minutes.
“The third period is when we should have turned it up — we played too lax,” said Higgins. “We didn’t sustain the pressure like we did in the first period. We did a pretty poor job after that. We couldn’t get pucks past their defencemen. We were feeding their transition game way too much and they scored a couple of goals off the rush and that was the game. When you play a game like that, there’s a lot of things to correct.”
Without the injured Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra on injury reserve for remainder of the season, the Canucks won just 40 per cent of faceoffs against the Wings. They’ve gone six straight games without at least a 50 per cent efficiency rate and are ranked 23rd overall. And even when the Canucks started with the puck Saturday, they couldn’t finish enough. Alex Burrows ended a 10-game goal drought Saturday with two goals, could have had a hat trick and finished with a game-high six shots. But he lamented his total game presence.
“I turned the puck over way too much in the neutral zone and it was not one of my best games,” he said. “We’re facing adversity and nobody is going to do it for us. We know what we can do.”
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