Honey badger

Wednesday, 04.01.2012 / 1:50 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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Honey badger

It would make more sense to refer to Jannik Hansen as Mighty Bull or Redhawk or even Hornet, but Honey Badger seems to be here to stay.

For good reason.

Although Hansen began his professional hockey career with the Rødovre Mighty Bulls and the Malmö Redhawks, and the Herlev Hornets were his hometown team growing up, bulls, redhawks and hornets simply don’t stack up to the honey badger, nature’s most fearless creature.

Hansen doesn’t see the connection and if anyone tried to give me a moniker with honey in it, I’d ward it off as well.

Now more than ever, the honey badger nickname makes a lot of sense for Hansen, who is having a breakout season with the Vancouver Canucks. Tenacious sums up both honey badgers, the player and the animal; thriving because of their thick skin and ferocious defensive abilities is simply what they do best.

That has been Hansen’s modus operandi dating back to before he was on hockey’s radar, long before the Canucks selected him 287th overall (fifth to last) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

The reason the 25-year-old Danish forward is making headlines these days is for his contributions on offence. Hansen had 24 goals and 65 points in 189 games coming into this season, his fourth with the Canucks, but through 40 games this year he’s recorded 12 goals and 11 assists to sit tied for sixth in team scoring with 23 points.

The question everyone wants answered pertains to why Hansen is finally finding the back of the net and is on pace for what would be a career-high 24 goals, 22 assists and 46 points.

The answer was clear as ever in Vancouver’s 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks Monday night at Rogers Arena.

Less than five minutes into the first period Roberto Luongo stopped Brent Burns in close, with the rebound bouncing out to Cody Hodgson. He looked up ice and dished the puck to Hansen as he tore down the left wing, Daniel Sedin followed down the middle of the ice to complete the Vancouver 3-on-1.

Hansen then centered for Hodgson, who one-timed the puck back to Hansen. Running out of time and space, Hansen tried to get the puck across the crease to Daniel Sedin and just like that the Canucks led 1-0.

How and when the puck actually went in remains a mystery to replay officials and Hansen alike. All that matters is that it went in, counting as his 12th goal.

The difference between Hansen this year and Hansen of the past is confidence. As illustrated, even with options limited and dwindling, he used veteran poise to make something happen.

“Once you get a little bit more confidence, you try to put more pucks on the net,” said Hansen, “where as maybe before you try to pass it off or make a play or find a cute shot and make sure it’s a tap-in instead of just letting it go to see if it can go in.”

Some have pointed to Hansen’s ice time as the key to his improved level of play, but through 40 games he’s only averaging 16 more seconds per game compared to last season.

It’s whom Hansen is skating alongside that is making a world of difference.

“I’ve had a lot more opportunity to play in the top-six and it definitely bodes well for your production when you’re getting a chance to play with Hank and Danny, playing with Kes, and being put in a situation to produce.

“I’ve had a little more puck luck this year too, you saw it yesterday when maybe a puck that shouldn’t go in finds a way in off a stick and off a glove.”

Everything is coming together for Hansen and he’s not the only forward able to stake that claim.

Cody Hodgson is tied for fourth in rookie scoring with nine goals and 13 assists in 40 games; he’s tied for second in rookie power play goals with three, he's third in power play points with seven, tied for fifth in plus/minus at plus-7 and has directed a healthy 70 shots at opposing goalies – all while sitting 61st among rookies in average ice time at 12:32.

It’s too early to throw Hodgson’s name in the running for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but Hansen sees a little of himself in the Canucks rookie.

So does coach Alain Vigneault.

In the progression of his line-up, Vigneault isn’t surprised to see Hansen and Hodgson turning heads in Vancouver and around the NHL.

“To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen a lot as far as his game changing, I’m just seeing a young man that’s progressing and improving his skill set around the net,” said Vigneault. “Jannik’s attributes, his speed, his feistiness in the corner, the fact that he loves to win the battles in the corner and takes pucks to the net, all that has been there, but as you get older and have more experience and you work on your art, you get better.

“That’s what happened with Hank and Danny through the years, and that’s what happened with Kesler and Burrows, etcetera etcetera, and that’s what’s happening with Jannik Hansen right now and that’s what’s going to happen with Cody.”