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Consistency the question for Jenks

by Adam Kimelman

No. 50 ranked A.J. Jenks dropped from rank No. 20 during the mid-term report in January, after going from 20 goals in his first 35 games to just six in his final 33 games of the season.
A.J. Jenks has the size and skill set to be a successful NHL player.

"He's a big guy, a hard-working guy, goes to the net, plays with a lot of energy," was the report from Central Scouting's Chris Edwards.

The one knock on Jenks, though, is bringing that same energy on a nightly basis.

"When he's playing a physical, aggressive, high-energy game, he's very effective," said Edwards. "When he's battling for pucks, winning battles, he's very effective. He produces points when he's doing that. When he's not doing that, he doesn't look good. He needs to play at a high energy, get involved, battle for pucks, because he's got good puck skills and playmaking ability. He needs to show that every night."

Jenks showed it enough during his second season with the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers to finish third on the team with 26 goals and 55 points, which earned him the No. 50 ranking among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

That ranking was a drop from the mid-term charts released in January, when he was ranked No. 20. The drop mirrored his season, which started well -- he had 20 goals in his first 35 games -- and ended poorly -- he scored just six times over his final 33 games.

Jenks admits that kind of wild swing in a season won't help him make the jump to the next level.

Becoming a more consistent player, he says, is "definitely going to be one of my goals, because I had an up and down year. That's something I'm going to improve this year. Count on that."

The question, though, is how. If a team wants a player to get stronger, he can spend more time in the gym; if the player needs to be quicker, he can do agility drills. But those are tangible things; how, exactly, does a player improve his consistency?

"That's a great question," says Jay Heinbuck, director of amateur scouting for the Pittsburgh Penguins. "If kids could figure that out they'd all be doing it. In some kids' case it's more consistent effort every shift, moving your feet, getting to top speed, getting into position where you're going to get pucks.

"I think a lot of it is mentally telling yourself, move your feet, go at a high intensity every shift, and be in a good position to receive the puck."

That's something Jenks did well at times last season, but there are a lot of players in the minor leagues who do things well sometimes. Elite NHL players do them well all the time.

"You know if that particular player can do it once, you'd like to see him do it 99 percent of the time," said Don Boyd, director of player personnel for the Columbus Blue Jackets. "If he does it often enough, he becomes a National Hockey League player."

For his part, Jenks recognizes he needs to do more than just say he's going to fix the flaws in his game.

"I think I need to consistently be a really physical presence, make sure I'm playing the body a lot, make sure I'm getting lots of contact," he said. "Because if I'm not, it's a big part of my game, it gets me off my game. I'm not able to create the space and opportunities that I usually do if I'm not as physical."

Scouts believe that if Jenks can put all the pieces together, there could be a heck of a pro hockey player there. It will take time, something that certainly is on Jenks' side.

"As a coach, sometimes you forget that A.J.'s only 17 years old," said Whalers coach Greg Stefan. "We expect a lot from him and that's not always reasonable. A.J.'s definitely going to be a National Hockey League player one day. He's got good size and probably has one of the best shots in the league, from a wrist shot or snap-shot perspective. I think he shoots the puck as well as any pro does right now. His skating -- straightaway -- is solid.  He needs to work on his lateral movement and stops-and-starts -- but that will come with experience, work and time."

And Jenks says he is going to put in the work and time, and learn from the experience.

"I think you have to be really mentally tough," he said. "You have to be able to focus yourself. You have to have the will in you to dig down and give it your all on every shift. I think it helps when the coach tries to pull stuff out of you, but it mostly comes from within yourself. You have to bring it out of your own self. You know how to do it, you just have to stay with it."

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