At the beginning of this offseason, many New York Rangers followers were shocked with the news that Rangers prospect Nicklas Jensen signed a one-year deal with a KHL team, Jokerit. This is very surprising that he would leave after his recent year in the AHL.
He had a very good year in the AHL, putting up 32 goals and 55 points in 70 games played. Leaving North America to go to the KHL could hurt his development and more importantly, his chances at making the Rangers in the future.
Rangers’ Training Camp
This season was the year, in my mind, that Jensen would have had a serious shot at making the team. At the beginning of this new season, Jesper Fast will be out of the lineup for a good amount of time after offseason hip surgery. That means there is an opening on the fourth line for Jensen to take. He would have to battle for the spot with other prospects, but after the year he had in the AHL, the spot should have been his.
Jesper Fast (Photo credit: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Jensen has had a taste of the NHL before and could really bring his skill set to the Rangers if he decided to stay. He might have missed an opportunity here in training camp to make an impression at the NHL level. The window to make the NHL does not come around often.
Jensen’s Style of Play
Jensen’s style of play encompasses speed. He has great acceleration and he can beat you to a puck with just a couple of strides. In a league where speed is what you need to win games, Jensen fits the mold perfectly. The Rangers recently had a speedster with Carl Hagelin but lost him due to cap issues and eventually a trade.
That same trade with Hagelin now leads the Rangers to Jensen. The Rangers got Emerson Etem in the Hagelin trade with the Anaheim Ducks, with Etem eventually flipped to the Canucks for Jensen and a sixth-round pick in the 2017 draft. New York gave up a speedy player but eventually got one with Jensen and would get another one later down the road.
Michael Grabner, another speedy winger, was picked up in the summer of 2016. Grabner and Jensen on the same line could have been a deadly combo in this upcoming season. Speed can really help teams win in today’s NHL. Jensen is also known for his ability to score, as he had 32 goals in the AHL last year in a breakout season. Even in the OHL, he had solid scoring numbers with two 25-plus goal scoring seasons with the Oshawa Generals.
If he could have translated this scoring to the NHL, it would have really helped this year by giving the Rangers even more depth. He also fits Alain Vigneault‘s “run and gun” style. Jensen was drafted in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 where, at the time, Vigneault was the head coach.
Alain Vigneault (Photo: Jim Cerny/The Hockey Writers)
But one thing not really talked about is his defensive game. He finished with a minus-27 in the past season. It could have been this stat or even his defensive game that made him want to switch to the KHL. Maybe a different style of hockey will benefit him overall. Personally, I believe that his offensive game outweighs his defensive game since it is necessary to have good depth scoring.
With this up coming season, the Rangers still have a world-class goalie and with a brand new blue line, defensive mistakes can be made up for. Henrik Lundqvist has been bailing out his teammates’ mistakes for years now. Jensen’s style of play would have really benefitted the Rangers in the starting months with Fast out.
The Rangers only lost Jensen for the season to the KHL. That doesn’t mean he is ruled out of the club’s plans forever. I was really hoping to see him in a Rangers uniform this upcoming season. The year he had in the AHL showed that he might be ready for the next step.
Nicklas Jensen (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
The opening on the team is there with Fast being out at the beginning of the year. Hopefully, Jensen has a solid year in the KHL and comes back to North America ready to make the NHL team. We will never know what could have happened at training camp his year.