VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks don't have a lot of young, promising forward prospects to call up from the American Hockey League, but they'll get a good look at one in Nicklas Jensen against the Calgary Flames Saturday night.
Jensen celebrated his 21st birthday on Thursday, was called up from the Utica Comets on Friday and will start against the Flames in a top-six role, playing right wing with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins.
The slumping Canucks have scored nine goals in their past nine games and hope Jensen can provide a needed offensive boost after scoring nine goals in his past 14 games in the AHL.
"He's come alive of late," coach John Tortorella said. "I'm going to put him in an offensive position at the start and see where we go."
The Canucks haven't looked like they are going anywhere lately.
A stretch of one win in 12 games has dropped Vancouver to 11th in the Western Conference and sparked talk of a need to rebuild a franchise thin on offensive forward prospects. When top-six right wing Zack Kassian was suspended three games for his hit on Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon in a 6-1 loss on Thursday, the Canucks finally turned to Jensen.
After a slow start to his second professional season, the native of Denmark has scored 14 goals in 28 games in 2014, giving him 15 in 51 games overall. Vancouver called up fourth-line wing Darren Archibald ahead of Jensen earlier this week when top-line left wing Daniel Sedin injured his leg during the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at BC Place on Sunday.
"You always want to be that guy, but I think it was good for me," said Jensen. "I had a tough start and I think I needed some time to get going and find my game, and now I'm here so I am excited."
Jensen, picked 29th in the 2011 NHL Draft, was barely noticeable in a two-game call up late last season after spending most of the year in Sweden's top professional league. And this season started terribly, with a shoulder injury limiting him to one goal in his first 26 games.
Now the 6-foot-3, 197-pound right wing may have found his confidence at the perfect time.
"I'm just going to try and bring it up here with me," Jensen said.
The Flames did not have a morning skate Saturday after overcoming a two-goal deficit to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 in Calgary Friday night. But they are expected to dress the same rookie-filled lineup against the Canucks, including 22-year-old goalie Joni Ortio, who will start back-to-back games for the first time in his NHL career.
Ortio was one of eight rookies in an injury-riddled Calgary lineup on Friday, the most in a game for the Flames since Dec. 10, 1996.
Here are the projected lineups for the Canucks and Flames:
Scratched: Matt Stajan (personal)
Suspended: Zack Kassian