Each week leading up to the June draft, DetroitRedWings.com will feature a top prospect that they believe will likely be available late in the first round.
Today's feature: NICKLAS JENSEN, F, OSHAWA (OHL)
It was a play that showed skill, determination and a will to win. It was the type of play that leaves NHL scouts wanting to see more.
It was late October when the Oshawa Generals and London Knights were locked in a see-saw overtime period. That’s when 17-year-old Nicklas Jensen scooped up a loose puck in front of his goalie, skated behind his own net and fearlessly steamed up the middle of the ice.
As the 6-foot-2 power forward gained speed through the congested neutral zone, he weaved around defenders as if they were orange pylons. The left-handed shooter finished the remarkable play by snapping a shot that beat the London goalie glove-side, giving the visiting Generals a 4-3 victory.
“He went in, cut right to left, beat a few guys and then snapped the shot in,” said Chris DePiero, the Generals’ general manager and coach. “It was one of those things where, ‘OK, this is one of the things that he’s capable of doing.’ Then after that his confidence just grew.”
Now 18-years-old, Jensen had the attention of NHL scouts all season, scoring 29 goals and 29 assists in 61 games in his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League.
There are many things to like about this power forward that was born and raised in Denmark. However, not many Danish players – short of New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen – have made it to the NHL.
But DePiero says there is plenty of upside to Jensen’s future.
“First and foremost, I look at Nick, who came over from Denmark this year, came in and assimilated himself – not only in the North American culture – but the culture of the dressing room,” DePiero said. “In the next few years, the organization that takes him will get a guy who will be able to adapt and assimilate very quickly.”
In the Red Wings’ history, only one Danish-born player has ever graced their NHL roster. Defenseman Poul Popiel played parts of seven NHL seasons, including two in Detroit. He later played four WHA seasons with Gordie Howe in Houston.
But Jensen’s stock is much higher. His father, Dan, played three OHL seasons in Peterborough and Guelph, so there is a pedigree-factor. But Jensen is a far better NHL prospect than his dad was in the late 1980s. The NHL Central Scouting Bureau even has the young Jensen ranked No. 15 among North American forwards.
“There is some definite mentorship that his dad has passed down to him,” DePiero said. “Ultimately, Nicklas has taken that and run with it in a very positive way.”
Whether or not Jensen becomes the first-ever Danish player selected by the Red Wings, only time will tell. Detroit has the No. 24 pick in the first-round of the NHL draft, which will be held June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. It’s widely considered that Jensen will be a late first- or second-rounder.
“You’re at the mercy of teams that have specific needs and depending upon how they view Nicklas and how their lists are formulated that’s going to be the way it works,” said DePiero, referring to where Jensen may go in the draft. “But if they’re looking for a guy who can do the things that Nicklas can do then I’m sure he’ll go quite high.”
While the skill is obviously a part of Jensen’s DNA, some scouts would like to see more toughness out of the young star. DePiero said with develop, Jensen will continue to improve in every aspect of his game.
“The one thing that I can say about Nicklas is that he’s a game-breaker,” DePiero said. “He just has that ability and desire. Certain guys have that desire and that will to be the difference-maker, and he certainly has that. We had an idea – an inkling – that he had that, but to be able to see it first-hand, was outstanding.
“Conversely, what comes out is that he has this quiet intensity about him – he wants to win. So that was something that was very evident early, but it was great to see.”
DePiero said he also sees from Jensen, almost daily, an incredible will to succeed in North America.
“He puts pressure on himself to be better,” DePiero said. “It’s that quite intensity. He’s got that. You see it in practice. He wants to get better and do well. I love working with him because he wants to be a hockey player. There’s no ifs, ands, or butts about it. He wants to be an NHL hockey player, so from a coaching standpoint, you’re dealing with a motivated athlete.”
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