Born: 9-21-1990 (St. Paul, Minnesota)
Contract: 1 year left at $812,500
In 2016-2017, Nick Jensen played himself into a roster spot and a two-year contract extension all while providing a reliable presence on the back-end. Not the most offensively-gifted defenseman on the roster, Jensen’s game could be best described as unspectacular or unassuming. That’s not to say Jensen’s not an NHL defenseman, but rather that his job is to steadily go about his work without causing too much of a headache.
This year that trend continued. Jensen’s 15 points (all assists, 7 of which were primary) in 81 games is, as mentioned, nothing staggering. Jensen, on average, was the team’s 5th or 6th defenseman for most of the year. But I’d contend he was probably the steadiest defender they had, apart from a rough stretch in the middle third of the year, and that’s why he was paired so often with Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser.
Now, Jensen did have one of the poorer on-ice GA rates among Red Wing defensemen. This could be due to some unluckiness on his part, he was one of the better Wings defenders at limiting all types of shots against. Looking at his 5v5 shots allowed heatmap, it seems like with Jensen on the ice the Wings gave up more shots on the point and near the middle of the right circle but far fewer shots directly in front of the net.
We’ll have to see how this shakes out next season, on-ice GA rates for a defenseman whose team just finished with 30 wins don’t concern me. I’d say that’s more so a team issue than one isolated to any single player. Keep in mind the quality of competition and teammates that aren’t explicitly captured here, too. While this heatmap and the results below look good, remember they mostly came against the other teams’ bottom-six forward units.
This isn’t a knock on Jensen by any means, he doesn’t get to choose who Jeff Blashill matches him up with after all. But just keep that context in mind. Trevor Daley didn’t have the greatest year but he was thrown to the wolves whereas Jensen wasn’t often tasked as a shutdown guy.
On the other marks, I think Jensen delivered. He was consistently one of the better Wings defenders in the transition game and, while he failed to score a goal this year, he was still a factor in the offense with assists and shot assists. The goals against hurt his case a bit, but his on-ice shots against weather that pain a little bit and leave me hopeful for a regression back to the mean for next year.
Jensen’s game isn’t very flashy and he doesn’t intend it to be. The less noticeable he is, the better. To contribute he doesn’t have to take unnecessary risks at the offensive blueline, gamble with risky breakout passes or score a bunch of points. He’s just got to play sound defense, clear the puck away from the dangerous areas in the defensive zone and ultimately make a good first pass to his forwards.
By mid-season, Jensen had effectively shut the door on Xavier Ouellet’s bid to become one of the team’s top 6 defenders. Ouellet spent the rest of the year rotating in as the 7D, and he now appears to be on his way out of the organization with just one year left on his deal. Oh, and he became one of the mainstays on the penalty kill too. Not bad for a guy who takes up $812,500 of cap space.
What He Did vs Expectations
Going along with how we should grade these players based on what they were tasked with, rather than some other absolute measure, I think Jensen had as good of a season as any Red Wings defenseman. His play, even while paired with Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser was not mind-blowing, but he went about his job quietly and efficiently. I’d even go as far to say that playing Kronwall with Jensen was a big factor in Kronwall’s improvement this season. Easier competition and a competent puck-moving partner seemed to require less of Kronwall. The same goes for DeKeyser too.
If his cap hit was closer to someone like Jeff Petry’s (or a few defenders on this team), you’d expect another 20-30 points per season out of him while taking on tougher competition. But instead, Jensen’s taking up just over 1% of the cap. A little bit of offense, a strong transition game and average defense from one of your third pairing defenders whose salary could be buried in the minors is alright with me. And don’t forget that he was playing 2nd pairing minutes to finish out the year, while also maintaining his spot on the penalty kill. So, it’s not like he’s unable to move around the lineup in a pinch if necessary.
Final Grade: B
It’ll be interesting to see how Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill organize this roster for next year. It’s clear the organization holds him in a high enough regard to have signed him to an extension and protected him in the expansion draft. What remains to be seen is how the emergence of several prospect defensemen will impact his role on the team. If Mike Green returns that will also push everyone on the right-side of the defense down a spot on the depth chart.
For now, though, Jensen’s done enough to earn his spot on this team and a passing grade for the 2017-2018 season in my book.
What grade would you give Nick Jensen?
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