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Full speed ahead

Friday, 14.02.2014 / 12:00 PM / Features
By Tyson Giuriato
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Full speed ahead
After an unusual slow start to the season, Nicklas Jensen appears to be back on track.
After an unusual slow start to the season, Nicklas Jensen appears to be back on track.

The Canucks first round pick, 29th overall, in 2011 scored just one goal in the first 26 games of the season. In fact, dating back to last season, Jensen went 34 American Hockey League games without finding the back of the net, which was something we hadn’t seen from him before.

Jensen had 62 goals and 132 points in 134 games with Oshawa of the OHL in his 17 and 18-year-old seasons. He scored 17 times as a 19-year-old in the Swedish Hockey League and added two goals in three games with Denmark and the World Hockey Championships. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder even scored six goals in eight games with the Chicago Wolves at the end of 2011-12 season.

Jensen injured his shoulder during a pre-season game with the Canucks in September and missed the start of the season. Upon his return it took him until his 19th game to find the back of the net with the Comets.

“Obviously it was frustrating,” said Jensen. “Growing up I was able to score everywhere I went and then I get into a drought like that.

“The shoulder took longer than I wanted it to or expected it to, but it’s all good now; I don’t feel any pain or anything in it.”

Things have appeared to turn around. Jensen has 10 goals in his last 15 games, highlighted by a natural hat trick against the Rockford IceHogs on February 9th. The product of Herning, Denmark, said it’s the little things he has been concentrating on lately that has added to his overall game.

“I have been focusing on the small things and my complete game,” said Jensen. “I think my complete game is getting better and that is one of the reasons why I have been able to put the pack in the back of the net a bit more recently. I find this league (AHL) is a tough league to score a lot of goals and I think you see that when you look around the league.

“I want to score every chance I have. That’s what a goal-scorers mind should be and lately they have been going in a lot more than before and I am happy with that. I just need to keep it up.”

The small details include getting the puck out of the defensive zone, going hard on the forecheck and being stronger on the puck. Comets head coach Travis Green didn’t think it was a problem that perhaps his most skilled player wasn’t scoring, he knew he was learning to play the right way and the goals would come. Green is in the business of winning hockey games, but he’s also in the business of developing players the right way.

“I don’t look at it like it was a problem,” said Comets head coach Travis Green. “We are not an offensive powerhouse of a team; we weren’t gelling as a group in the beginning as we were pretty much an expansion group. It’s a hard league to score in and if you look around the league, it’s not wide-open hockey. It’s heavy, hard hockey.

“I think in a way it has been a blessing for him because he is learning how to play a heavy and hard way of hockey. He realizes he needs to get better in certain areas of the game. He needs to get a bit stronger and his skating needs to get a bit better.

“He has a good knack for the net, but you forget how young he is. He needs to get stronger, but he is getting better. I like how he is progressing, he is learning a lot of fine details that young guys need to learn.”

Being a first round pick, Jensen knows there are expectations on him to exceed, but he seems to relish the pressure.

“I know I have expectations and I have a lot of expectations on myself,” said Jensen. “I put pressure on myself and every time I step on the ice I want to be the best. I think the pressure is good though; I am better with pressure.”

Green can relate to Jensen. A high draft pick (23rd overall by the Islanders in 1989) himself, the Castlegar, BC product didn’t play his first full season in the NHL until 1993. He spent four seasons after being drafted developing, including 164 games in the AHL, before he went on to play 970 games in the NHL, where he amassed 455 points.

“I think expectations are always high for a high draft pick,” said Green. “You feel like it needs to happen right away and sometimes it doesn’t happen for two, three or four years.”