Sunday, March 23, 2014

Five points out of the playoffs, but hey look! Nicklas Jensen!

Jensen led all SEL rookies with 17 goals in 50 games last year. After a slow start
with Utica, he's living up to the hype on the Canucks' top line. (Flickr: anders-h-foto)

Back in early-February, I wrote an article lauding Eddie Lack and how his play was one of the Canucks' few redeeming stories this year. It was a post grasping for any kind of positivity in the face of a precariously-held playoff spot. Oh, that playoff spot. It was a whole fifteen games ago now that the Canucks were still ahead of both Dallas and Phoenix -- if just barely.

Although Lack's baptism-by-fire, post-Luongo, has loosened his play, he remains one of the few Canucks playing beyond pre-season expectations. And for the past couple of weeks, he's been joined by another pleasantly surprising rookie in Nicklas Jensen.

In the seven games since being called up from Utica, Jensen has registered five points, three of which have come in the late stages of close games. With the young Dane giving both Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows a desperately-need spark, the Canucks' first line has been dangerous on a routine basis. And that hasn't been true in a very long while. After seeing Burrows shoot 0 for 86 for the first five months of the season, watching Jensen score from virtually everywhere in the offensive zone has been an incredibly refreshing -- if not, disorienting -- sight for sore eyes. Case in point:

With the playoffs a near impossibility, their star goalie gone and their best all-around player wanting out, the Canucks' market value among fans is plummeting fast. It's been a while since we've seen any real Sedinery this season. And it's hard to imagine people are still interested in shelling out a hundred dollars-plus per game to see a team whose offensive ineptitude is surpassed only by the Vanek- and Moulson-less Sabres. That said, the entertainment that a high-scoring rookie and a rejuvenated first line provides is worth its weight in top-corner snipes.

With Daniel slotting back in and assuming that Torts retains the young Dane on the first unit, it'll be interesting to see what Jensen's finish could do with both Sedins' playmaking ability. If Daniel can join Henrik in re-discovering his game, Jensen's five points could multiply very quickly by the end of the season.

As it is, Jensen's seven-game pace is uniquely prolific among Canucks rookies in recent history. It's been a long time since a Canucks rookie has begun his season so successfully.* Statistically speaking, it's been nearly five years. That rookie was Michael Grabner, who reeled off five points in his first six games during an October 2009 call-up. Before that, Brandon Reid also scored five in his first six of the 2002-03 season. And just to bring the whole thing full circle, the last one before Reid was Jensen's current centre, Henrik Sedin, who began his career with 8 points in his first 11 games. (By comparison, Daniel scored 10 in his first 12.)

Hopefully, Jensen's career trajectory can emulate more of Grabner's than Reid's. (Given that Jensen is not four feet tall, initial projections are good.) And with the Sedins falling off their point-per-game pace and Kesler's days as a Canuck numbered, a whole lot is riding on it.


*Including Jensen two games without a point in 2012-13, he would have five points in his first nine NHL games. But for statistical puffery's sake, we'll go by the 'at least five points to start a rookie season' rather than the 'to start an NHL career' standard.

*Steve Kariya - 6 points in first 7 games - 1999-2000
*Bill Muckalt - 8 points in first 10 games - 1998-99
*Mattias Ohlund - 5 points in first 8 games - 1997-98
*Pavel Bure - 4 points in first 5 games - 1991-92
*Trevor Linden - 8 points in first 11 games - 1988-89


Eddie Lack for the All-Rookie Team
Bo Horvat at the World Juniors
Pavel Bure's Calder win and All-Rookie snub

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