TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Nick Jensen appreciates the individual recognition he received in college.
But this week, the former St. Cloud State standout knows it’s time to rise above other past award recipients that are gathered at the Red Wings’ pro camp.
“I’m just coming in, working as hard as I can, playing the game that got me here,” Jensen said Saturday in an exclusive interview with DetroitRedWings.com. “Just trying to turn some heads with the scouts, the GM, and the coaches. Trying to get recognized, and obviously my main goal is to make the Detroit Red Wings. That’s my whole mindset going in.”
Too many things would have to happen for Jensen to make the Wings’ opening-night roster out of training camp. However, there’s a very good chance he gets called up at some point in the not-so-distant future.
It also helps Jensen’s case that he played the past two seasons for coach Jeff Blashill in Grand Rapids. The Wings’ new coach knows what he has in the 6-foot defenseman from Rogers, Minnesota.
“Nick is somebody who is continuing to show that he wants to knock on the door to be an NHL player,” Blashill said. “He uses his speed as a defensive weapon. Anytime somebody skates like that, everyone thinks of offense. For me, Nick uses it as a defensive weapon. He can really track guys down, his recoverability is great, his ability to come back and break pucks out and make the proper passes is going to be the big thing for him to do to continue to become an NHL player.”
Blashill was reluctant to say where Jensen is on the organizational depth chart, though it’s plausible to think he is either 9 or 10 on the list, behind Alexey Marchenko, who is paired with veteran Kyle Quincey right now in camp.
Under Blashill’s guidance, Jensen made big strides in his second full AHL season, producing six goals and 27 points in 75 games with the Griffins.
The 24-year-old Jensen has a great compete level and moves the puck extremely well out of the defensive zone. If he has a flaw it’s that he doesn’t always see the ice as well as the Wings would like.
An attribute that does favor the nephew of former NHL forward Steve Jensen is that he’s a right-handed shooter, something there isn’t a lot of in the league, making him a commodity of sorts.
“Obviously it’s a bit of an advantage,” Jensen said. “There are other D, Marchenko, (Ryan) Sproul, Mike Green and those guys are right-handed and great players as well, but there is a small advantage being right-handed. They’re putting righties and lefties together, so I think there’s a small advantage there.
“It definitely plays a factor in decisions with who’s playing and who’s paired with who.”
Having played for Blashill in the past has made Jensen – as well as others who played for the coach in Grand Rapids – more comfortable and confident in camp this week.
“Coming in I know most of the systems like the back of my hand,” Jensen said. “It makes it a lot easier, and I think it’s a little more helpful having him as a head coach for me because he’s seen me play for two years and knows what I can do and what I can work at. He knows how to communicate with me through that so I think that helps me a lot.”
The Red Wings drafted Jensen in 2009. The former fifth-round pick agrees that he was probably a late bloomer, waiting for his sophomore and junior years at St. Cloud State ratchet his game that earned him an entry-level contract. He was named the WCHA's defensive player of the year and was selected to the NCAA West First All-American Team, in 2012-13.
That season, Jensen was among four Wings prospects to earn defensive player of the year recognition in the their final collegiate or junior campaigns. The others were Sproul, Danny DeKeyser and Xavier Ouellet.
Jensen would like to believe he’s getting closer to making his NHL debut, but the competition is stout, making it difficult for him to know where, exactly, he stands in the minds of the team’s coaching staff.
“It’s just so hard to tell, because every year, it’s just not me, but there’s a lot of guys who have the potential of making the team,” Jensen said. “Everyone’s skill level is so close here, and I have to kind of take it that way. So it’s hard to tell if you’re any closer. I think I improved over the offseason and I’ve put myself in a better position to make the team. I try to make it noticeable out here, I don’t know if it is or not, but in my mind it is noticeable.”
NHL clubs can never have enough defensive depth, especially when injuries – at some junction of a long regular season – raise havoc for the big-league roster. Jensen understands that equation, and he plans to continue working on the things that will get him to his ultimate goal.
“Puck movement and making the smart plays are the biggest thing,” he said. “But it’s about doing all that consistently. You don’t want guys making those kinds of plays specifically just once in a while and than some bad plays once in a while. You want steady, consistent play every time and someone they can rely on, so that’s one of the biggest things I’ll work on no matter where I go.”