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Camp advances Jensen's development

by Christy Hammond / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Defenseman Nick Jensen’s locker room stall at the Red Wings’ development camp this week sits two down from where Wings’ captain Nicklas Lidstrom dresses, which is fitting since the six-time Norris Trophy winner was his favorite player growing up.

Nick Jensen
“He’s just a solid, all-around defenseman and that’s what I want to be like,” Jensen said. “So he’s definitely still my favorite defensive player, if not my favorite player.”

Jensen learned of Detroit’s interest in him when he received a phone call on the first day of last month’s draft in Montreal. While driving back to Texas from a wedding, Jensen answered the typical scouting questions from Detroit, including what he thinks the best part of his game is. The following day, he learned that the Wings had drafted him in the fifth round (150th overall).

The Red Wings were impressed with his strong skating and his U.S. Hockey League-leading plus-34 rating, showing that Jensen plays a strong defensive game. He believes the high plus-minus rating demonstrates how his game has changed since forgoing his senior year of high school in Minnesota to join the USHL.

“Well back in Minnesota hockey, I was more offensive and didn’t play as much defense,” Jensen said. “I went to the USHL and it was much more high-skilled and I knew I had to play a lot more defense first before I tried playing offense. I think it shows that I really worked on my defensive game more in the USHL than back in high school.”

It also didn’t hurt that the 6-foot-1, 187-pound defenseman has up to five years to develop and mature before the organization has to decide whether to sign him or not. NHL teams cannot sign their players until they opt to leave college or graduate, giving both Jensen and the Red Wings time to determine if it’s a good fit.

“It’s a great advantage obviously for our organization to make a decision on 25-year-old guys over 18, 19, 20-year-olds,” said Jiri Fischer, the Wings’ director of player development. “But at the same time it gives them a lot of valuable time to become great, dominant players by the time they actually get out of college.”

Jensen, 18, will return to the USHL for a second season with the Green Bay Gamblers, the defending league champions.
Jensen scored five goals and added 17 assists in 52 games. But it was his league-leading plus-34 rating that raised eyebrows.

Jensen’s plan is to eventually join fellow Wings’ prospect Nick Oslund at St. Cloud State University after the upcoming season. SCSU coaches were impressed by the progress they saw Jensen make in his first USHL season, one in which he registered five goals and 17 assists in 52 games.

“When I came into St. Cloud they told me how when I first got there, I was about right here and all of a sudden you just go up like that because it’s just the level of play (in the USHL) is so much higher and it helps you so much,” Jensen said.

This week’s development camp at Joe Louis Arena teaches the prospects off-ice training that the players can do on their own when they return home. On the ice Jensen and company are learning how to go beyond the fundamentals, improving their skills.

“So when he goes this season back to the USHL, I’ll be seeing him a lot and working with him quite a bit – personally going up to Green Bay, getting to know the organization better,” Fischer said. “For him as much as he is trying to learn here, same thing for us is we’re trying to learn about him so we can help him to become a professional hockey player.”

Fischer’s guidance will be in addition to Jensen’s father, who has been his biggest teacher growing up. His father, Jeff, was a 10th round NHL pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1978.

 “He’s been my coach ever since I was in mites about age six or seven, and was my coach all the way up through high school, coaching winter and summer teams,” Jensen said. “He’s always working with me off the ice at home and he still does that today so he’s definitely the biggest teacher that I’ve had in hockey.”

Time will tell how Jensen’s career turns out, but the Wings will look at him year-by-year, setting short-term goals of where they’d like to see him improve.

“Hopefully next year, he can be very dynamic,” Fischer said, “a leader of the team, and dominate the league.”

Christy Hammond is an intern in the Red Wings' New Media & Publishing Department at Joe Louis Arena.

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