Nick Jensen, picture via Western College Hockey
As I alluded to earlier, this edition of Friday Prospects is pretty unique. Casey was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to interview Nick Jensen -- Detroit's 5th round pick from 2009. Jensen plays for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL, heading to St. Cloud State next season. He's having a great season, having won gold internationally, top ten in the league in +/-, and just being named to the USHL All-Star game.
We talked a bit about his progress this season, his experience being drafted by Detroit, his future in college, and his gold medal-winning performance with Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge. Enjoy.
WIM: Green Bay is first in the division and you were just named to the USHL All-Star Game. What does that mean to you to accomplish something like that?
JENSEN: I definitely take pride in that, it's an opportunity that I'm glad to be a part of. Our team didn't really get recognized last year -- not saying that I should have been on it last year (ED NOTE: Jensen led the USHL in +/- last year, just sayin'), but there was a lot of guys that probably should have been on it and we really didn't get any recognition. We had a new coach, new staff, and a couple players that were not well known. This year I think we've got the most guys, two people on the coaching staff going, so it means a lot to be able to go this year.
WIM: How would you describe your style of play to Wings fans who haven't been able to see you play -- your strengths and weaknesses?
JENSEN: I think my skating is my best asset. I usually make pretty smart plays with the puck. I like being more of an offensive defenseman, you know, I don't just sit back and play tight. I try to play good defense too, along with offense. That's pretty much how I'd explain it.
WIM: What aspect of your game have you been trying to improve on this season, and how do you feel you've done with that?
JENSEN: At the beginning of this season I was trying to improve on moving the puck up as soon as possible, because it's really important at these high level leagues. As soon as I get the puck, I'm pretty much like a quarterback. You've got to pick your head up and move it to the open guy as soon as possible. Everyone in this league and everything happens so fast. The faster you make things happen, the better the play's going to be.
WIM: What do you feel you still need to work on to get to the next level?
JENSEN: I wouldn't say I'm the best at moving the puck, so I just need to work on my passing, keeping my head up, and moving it to the forwards as fast as possible. Shooting's huge because the goalies are so good, especially at higher levels and even this level. I have to work on getting shots through from the blueline, and getting it through the forward who's trying to screen him.
WIM: What did it mean to you to be drafted by the Red Wings and has that changed any aspects of your game or how you approach coming to the rink every day?
JENSEN: Getting drafted, to me, just felt like the start. It meant that this was just the beginning and I had to start working really hard now. Especially from Detroit, being where they are and their reputation of being a great hockey team. My mom's side of the family is all from Michigan, too, so it was nice to get drafted because they were all pretty excited. The Wings have always been the favorite team of all of them.
WIM: Do you get to visit the area a lot then?
JENSEN: Obviously not now, but I used to go there every year, at least when I wasn't busy with hockey. My parents still go out there and I still have relatives out there.
WIM: Did you get any indication leading up to the draft that Detroit might take you?
JENSEN: I had never talked to them until the day of the first round, the day before I got drafted. They called me and asked me a few questions -- nothing too in depth, just basic questions like what my strengths and weaknesses are. That was pretty much my indication that they were interested, but I wasn't sure if they were going to take me or not.
More with Jensen after the jump, including his run in with two big name former Red Wings and his thoughts on USHL hockey.
WIM: You've said before that one of your favorite players was Nicklas Lidstrom, did you get a chance to meet him?
JENSEN: Not yet I haven't, but when I was at their camp I did get a chance to meet Steve Yzerman. He was one of my favorite players too so that was pretty cool.
WIM: And how was your experience at the development camp last summer, meeting the rest of the organization?
JENSEN: It was really cool. There was like 40 guys that they brought in, all top notch players. It was a really neat camp, you got to be in the locker room, you got to tour all of the facilities, yeah, it was pretty cool.
WIM: Was that camp more for learning how to be a professional, or for the Wings to just assess where your development is at?
JENSEN: It's a mixture of both I think. We wake up pretty early and go out onto the ice for about two and a half hours each day. The first half we're working on a bunch of skills like power skating, stickhandling, and shooting. Then they resurface and we'll come out and work with Curt Fraser, the coach of their AHL team. He teaches us breakouts, forechecks, and all of the little things you need to know. There were a lot of guys at the camp that went on to the tryout camp for the Red Wings, so they had to know all that stuff going in. They taught us all that, then we'd go off ice for a lot of off-ice training with plyometrics, weight-lifting, and dieting, just what we should be eating.
WIM: Do the Wings stay in contact with you over the course of the season?
JENSEN: Yeah, they have one of their former players, Jiri Fischer, he works with all the draftees. He actually came around this year and talked to me, he came and watched me play. What he does is come watch you play and evaluate your game and see what you need to work on. He'll actually come to wherever you play at and have an on-ice session with you, to work on whatever you need to work on.
WIM: Why did you decide to go to the USHL over major junior hockey?
JENSEN: College is a lot of the reason, I wanted to be able to get an education still. Obviously I didn't know I was going to get drafted or anything. Still, if I had known that, I still would have come to this league. It's top notch, and unlike some of the major junior leagues you're eligible for college. That's what my plan is and what I want to do.
WIM: Right. And you're still going to St. Cloud State next year?
JENSEN: Yeah, that's correct.
WIM: Why did you decide to join that program?
JENSEN: It kind of came down to process of elimination. It came down to wanting to play in the WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) so I talked to different schools. I talked to Mankato State (Minnesota State University), Alaska, and then St. Cloud. After I committed I talked to Minnesota-Duluth and the University of Minnesota. I took a visit to Mankato and St. Cloud, because I decided I wanted to stay in Minnesota for college because that's where I'm from. So I visited two and pretty much just chose St. Cloud. They're pretty similar schools, but I like St. Cloud a little better. I've got a lot of friends going there, and they got new renovations for their rink. Then I talked to the coach about their depth and their roster, and it sounded like the team that I would want to be on.
WIM: Lastly, you won gold at the World Junior A Challenge. Talk about that experience and how that's going to help you moving forward.
JENSEN: It was a great experience when I went out there. I didn't have a whole idea of what it was because there's so many different USA tournaments like the Olympics then the IIHF under-20 team. The guys that went out there were mostly USHL and it was a great group of guys, all from different teams. We got along great. It was a great experience playing against different teams, like Canada and Sweden because obviously I've never played against them before. I learned that their style of play is so much different from our team. Winning the gold definitely made me proud, knowing that I represented my country like that, being able to win it for my country. It was fun, it was good experience.
And that'll do it. Thanks to Casey for allowing me to ask all of my nerdy prospects questions, and thanks to Nick for being a good sport and not being one of those media-trained hockey players who can't give more than a ten word answer... Crosby.