What's the one thing we've heard about constantly over the past, oh I don't know, half-a-decade? The Red Wings need a right-hand shot on the blue line. Right-hand this, right-hand that, Brian Rafalski hit me with a whiffle ball bat. There's no doubt in my mind that any one defensive prospect in this system will get wildly overlooked just because of the way they shoot the puck, or write their name on a piece of paper.
Today, we're talking about one of those right-shooting defensemen. Nick Jensen is a name that has blended into the defensive pipeline over the last couple of years merely because he had spent three years in the NCAA with St. Cloud State. In those three years, Jensen was named to the All-Academic team twice, the All-Star team twice, and was once named an All-American.
His first season pro was cut in half due to an injury sustained by Tyler Bertuzzi in a scuffle during training camp. Jensen posted nine points in 45 games with the Griffins in 2013-2014. However, in the 2014-2015 season, Jensen was one of the top defensemen for the Grand Rapids club being one of four defensemen who posted 20 or more points.
Jensen is definitely a top prospect in the entire Red Wings system. After flying under the radar, then having a successful and impressive preseason in 2014, he's found himself atop the list of defensemen. He can be described as a borderline elite skater, who plays a textbook two-way defensive game that boasts flashes of offensive flare. Having recently signed a one-year extension with the Red Wings, Jensen will look to fight for any time available during the regular season. Despite having success, and an impressive offseason, Nick Jensen still finds himself behind names like Alexey Marchenko, and Xavier Ouellet.
With the sizable logjam the Red Wings have at defense, odds aren't in Jensen's favor. However, I still believe he projects to be a potentially serviceable 2nd pair defenseman at the NHL level. At this point, unless a slew of injuries or trades happen, it's tough to see where he can fit going into the 2015-2016 season.
More from Michelle:
Nick Jensen is a mobile, agile, speedy offensive defenseman who had tremendous skating skills. The very first time I saw him in development camp I was in awe of not only his speed, but how smoothly and effortlessly he maneuvered through the skating drills. Some people were born with feet and learn now to skate, I think Nick Jensen may have been born with skates on. In addition to skating mobility and speed, Jensen is a puck moving defenseman who's just as happy to skate the puck and handle it himself, as he is passing it up to his forwards; he's comfortable in any situation. One of the frequent disadvantages of offensive defensemen is that they get caught pinching or taking offensive risks more often and can get burned. Jensen has the wheels to recover and get back defensively, so it's not as much of a risk for him as for some others. I see him being a potential #3 or #4 puck moving offensive defenseman at the NHL level, and able to provide needed offense from the back end while also providing solid defense as well. In his Sophomore season as St. Cloud State, his coach and the Wings coaches told him he needed to get better defensively in addition to his offensive skills; next year he was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year.
Jensen has been largely overshadowed by other defensemen in the Wings system, and in discussions of who's ready for NHL duty he was often left completely out last year; that's most certainly not a reflection on his abilities or readiness. Last season in Grand Rapids, Jensen was the Griffins' second highest scoring defenseman, putting up 27 point (6G, 21A) in 75 games
He's not a flashy player but he's very efficient on the ice and does critical things that contribute to offense, whether it's by moving the puck up ice or setting up his teammates for goals, Jensen is often underrated but contributes in a big way. He's not a bruiser but he's also not adverse to playing a physical game and laying open ice hits. He doesn't do it a lot and he doesn't have to because of his skating and puck handling skills, he gets the puck away and defends without having to lay a lot of hits. I cannot stress enough what an asset a defenseman is who can skate extremely well, and with the NHL adopting 3 on 3 overtime (finally!) a defenseman who can skate well and have good mobility, while being a 2 way defender is going to be even more valuable. Everyone is going to make mistakes, but as with a great skater like Jensen is able to do, it's often the recovery from those mistakes that make the difference between disaster and a harmless learning moment.
While Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet are the most talked about NHL ready defensemen not in Detroit, Nick Jensen is right there as well and he's ready for a chance to show what he can do in the big league. Mike Babcock was impressed with Jensen in training camp last year and the kid has only gotten better. Jensen is someone they're either going to need to promote soon, or trade away and get something in return. He's 24 years old, has 3 years of college and a year and a half in the AHL under his belt (his pro debut was delayed after undergoing shoulder surgery in the summer of 2013) and he's ready for the NHL. Jensen is my highest ranked defenseman, and he's so far down the list mostly because his impact on the team is very uncertain given how much depth we have on defense, and that Marchenko and Ouellet are ahead of him on the depth chart (although I could argue that Jensen is ahead of Ouellet in theory) and there isn't' even room for those two on the Wings. Be it with the Wings or with another NHL team, Nick Jensen will play in the NHL and he'll be an impact player.
More from Joe:
I really don't know what to say about Jensen at this point. He's a right shot, so he has that going for him. His skating is pretty good. He has a history of being a big offensive contributor on teams he's played for, including leading his St. Cloud State teams in blue line scoring each of his three seasons in school. He even put up an OK 27 points in 75 games for Grand Rapids last season.
I ranked him No. 10 when we started this project, but I'm wondering if I ranked him too high. Yeah, he's definitely a better hockey player than the guys I have behind him on the list. There's still a chance he could become an offensive specialist from the blue line to help foster an actual transition game in Detroit with how well he can carry the puck. But while the guys behind him are further away from NHL time, there's still plenty of potential for them to contribute at the NHL level later on, while there's some doubt about whether Jensen cracks the NHL at all. He'll be 25 years old by the time the season starts, so how much more can he really improve to earn a spot in the lineup with the Red Wings if he hasn't already?
JJ - #8
Graham - #8
Kyle - #8
Michelle - #6
Jeff - #8
Joe - #10
Caleb - #5
Christian - #9
Prashanth - #9
Lauren - #7