Nicklas Jensen may be just 17 years old, but he's smart enough to know where most NHL scouts are.
And it's not Herning, Denmark.
So Jensen left Herning in the top Danish professional league -- a league that saw him post 26 points in 34 games and win the league's rookie of the year award last season -- for the Oshawa Generals and the Ontario Hockey League this season.
"It's the best junior league in the world," Jensen told NHL.com regarding the OHL. "It's just to give the scouts a better look at me. In Denmark there's not that many scouts. Over here there's scouts at every game. It's better for me, especially in my draft year, to be seen a little more."
What the scouts have seen has been extremely impressive. A 6-foot-2 1/4, 187-pound forward, Jensen is third among first-year OHL players with 24 goals and fifth with 45 points. He's No. 20 on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of the best North American skaters eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft, and he also earned a coveted invitation to the 2011 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game last month.
"Nicklas has adjusted very well to the OHL," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "His puck-handling and play-making ability are excellent. He has an excellent wrist shot that he gets off quickly."
His hockey skills are something he inherited from his father. Dan Jensen was born in Canada, and after a short career in the OHL, he spent 16 seasons playing professional hockey in Denmark -- all but one of them as a defenseman for Herning. He had 175 goals and 954 penalty minutes in 549 games in a career that went from 1989-2005.
"I've been watching him all my life," Nicklas said of his father. "Every home game I've been out there watching him. He's a huge thing for me in hockey and I watched him a lot of times. He's definitely one of the biggest reasons I'm here."
Despite their on-ice differences in position and temperament -- Nicklas has just 32 penalty minutes in 43 games -- Nicklas said there's one thing he hopes to have in common with his father.
"He had a lot of will and I'm trying to have the same," he said. "He competed every game and I'm working on competing every time, every battle, really trying to just work hard every game. He definitely did that, so that's something I can take from him."
He's also taken his father's obvious knowledge of the English language to Canada with him. Nicklas grew up in a home where Dan spoke English and his mother, Majbritt, spoke Danish. So when it came time for Nicklas to make the next step in his career, Dan knew just where his son should go.
"We talked about it when I was younger," Nicklas said. "I got set in my mind that this was the place I was going to go in my Draft year."
It helps that Dan's parents and other family members live in Richmond Hill, Ont., about a 45-minute drive west from Oshawa.
It's all made for a pretty smooth adjustment to life in North America for Jensen, but there have been some bumps in the road. He had a respectable 9 goals and 21 points in his first 26 games when he left in early December to play for Denmark at the 2011 World Junior Championship Division I Group B tournament in Slovenia. That allowed him to spend some time at home with his parents and friends prior to the tournament, and he turned in a solid performance at the event, scoring 5 points in 5 games to help Denmark win the gold medal and earn elevation to the main draw for the 2012 WJC.
While he didn't light up the tournament, something must have clicked, because when he returned to Oshawa, Jensen was a different player.
"I struggled a bit with getting what I wanted in my game, especially with points, in the start," said Jensen. "I had a break in December where I went back to play World Juniors. I was home for a week with my family and friends. Then when I came back it gave me a little boost and since then it's gone great."
"He's starting to take off," Generals coach/GM Chris DePiero. "Certainly after Christmas, after he returned from the World Junior B pool and spending some time at home, since he's been back he's been on fire. It's renewed confidence for him. He's proving that the accolades coming his way are well deserved."
Part of that success has come from playing right wing a line with fellow top 2011 Entry Draft prospect Lucas Lessio on the left and Andy Andreoff in the middle.
"They feed off each other," said DePiero. "It's not the pretty passing plays, it's the little touch passes. They utilize their size and their quickness. Their puck protection is excellent. … They have a chemistry, the three of them. It's been kind of neat."
Jensen's improved play has also helped to lift the Generals into playoff contention for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
"Coming over, right off the bat he was a great player," Boone Jenner, another top 2011 Draft prospect, told NHL.com. "I don't think he missed a beat. When he came back from World Juniors in the second half of this year, he started really strong and he's lighting it up lately and it's good to see that.
"He's been doing really good as of late. He's a big part of our team this year."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org