Not the sexiest name out there for potential fixes for the Leafs’ blueline, but Nick Jensen could be one of the most shrewd moves Kyle Dubas could potentially make in his first offseason as General Manager.
Jensen has only 130 NHL games under his belt, but he has been the one single beacon of hope on the Detroit Red Wings defense. He certainly won’t outscore any of the other Leafs defensemen, but he can control shot attempts and deny zone entries pretty well – exactly what this blueline might need. Without him, the Red Wings defensive lineup from last season was approaching 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres level of bad.
He certainly wouldn’t be that top-4 right-handed elite defenseman that every fan is craving, but he can provide some much-needed depth. He does shoot right, so he has that going for him. But he is already going to be turning 28-years-old before the season starts, so don’t expect him to stick around for very long.
Jensen was extremely underused by Jeff Blashill this past season, averaging only 16:15 TOI, a whole 90 seconds less than his average in the 2016-17 season. This could be his distrust in Jensen, or that both Mike Green and Trevor Daley are ahead of him in that veteran depth chart on that right side. Blashill loves his older veterans.
With the re-signing of Green and Ken Holland already buying-out one of their other depth defensemen in Xavier Ouellet, it is believed that Nick Jensen is on his way out as well. They already have six defensemen signed for next season and after Filip Hronek’s stellar rookie season in the AHL, they want him in the lineup as well. In fact, they might have to trade him since he is the only defenseman on the Red Wings’ roster that does not have a No-Trade Clause.
Jensen comes in extremely cheap for what he can provide. He only has a cap hit of $812,500 and is a UFA after this upcoming season. If it doesn’t work out with the Leafs, he could be sent elsewhere with ease.
His raw offensive numbers don’t look that great, with only 15 assists in 81 games this season for the Wings. But who else other than Mike Green would come even close to having an offensive year on that team? Jensen has just been dealt a bad hand.
You can read more of his past season here on WingsNation:
Jensen certainly lacks in getting the points that makes him look way better on paper, but if you dig deeper, Jensen has been quietly one of the most underrated defensemen this past season.
He made every single other player he played with on the Red Wings, better.
If any other Wings player was on the ice without Jensen, they had a tougher time against the opposition. Usually allowing many more shots and not generating enough to balance it out. It’s obviously not the most impressive group of players, but an established player like Henrik Zetterberg goes from being demolished on both axis, to being turn around completely when he on the ice with Jensen. This can be said of most Wings forwards or defensemen this year.
Jensen obviously does not belong to be on the Red Wings team. The most common defensive partner he had last year was Danny DeKeyser – an offensive blackhole that has one skill, to stand at their own blueline and not allow zone entries.
While Jensen and DeKeyser were paired together, they had a top-15 Expected Goals For Percentage (56.76) among all defensive pairs in the whole league (min. 400 minutes). Among all the pairings that are ranked higher than Jensen and DeKeyser, they had the fewest amount of offensive zone starts. Meaning they most likely had the least amount of chances to actually get some scoring chances for their team. If Jensen can tilt the ice the Wings’ way when he is paired with DeKeyser, he should be able to do wonders with any of the left-handed defensemen the Leafs have.
If he can contribute more than any other Red Wings defenseman, with that group of players that earned them a 26th-overall spot in the league, imagine what he could do with the Leafs. It’s not like he’s absolutely inept at distributing the puck either.
Provided by Ryan Stimson and Corey Sznajder, here is how Jensen was able to pass his way through that Red Wings lineup, compared to Ron Hainsey.
Jensen doesn’t blow anyone out of the water in most pass types, but he is an extremely solid depth defender to have on your roster. He won’t be able to make the most difficult of passes or set up forwards from various parts of the ice, but he can defend well and that might be an understatement.
Nick Jensen was by far the best defenseman on the Red Wings last year, not that it was hard to do but still impressive. Demonstrated by CMHockey66’s Goals Above Replacement metric, he was able to outshine any of his peers on the roster at even-strength.
It was only at even-strength that Jensen’s GAR shows because Jeff Blashill never put Jensen on the powerplay, at all. He is not the most offensive-heavy defender, but he can certainly move his feet well enough to control the blueline on the man advantage.
But the best part of this is that Jensen did kill penalties.
In fact, he had the lowest Goals Against/60 among all regular Red Wings penalty killers, with 6.5 GA/60. The Wings had a terrible penalty kill, but that 6.5 GA/60 was the exact same that Ron Hainsey had with the Leafs’ PK this year.
Jensen can provide that balance that fans want to see. Never the most flashiest player on the ice, but can always be that solid force on the backend. The modern stay-at-home defenseman, if you will.
To get a sense of what Nick Jensen can actually look like on the ice, because I doubt many people actually forced themselves to suffer through the Red Wings’ past seasons, here is a clip of one of his seldom goals.
It is from the 2016-17 season, but you can see how Jensen looks in a counterattacking transition – something the Leafs do extremely well already. He doesn’t skate very gracefully, but that’s why the Leafs have elite skating defensemen in Rielly, Gardiner, and Dermott. Jensen would certainly be a welcomed skating upgrade from what the right-side of the Leafs’ blueline looked like last year.
Nick Jensen is the prototypical low-risk high-reward type of acquisition. The Red Wings won’t be looking for much, maybe a mid-round pick or a depth prospect, for Jensen, so there is really no risk in acquiring the right-handed defenseman. With only one year left on a contract that has a cap hit of $815,500, Jensen can easily be sent somewhere else if he does not fit with the Leafs.
But if he does work out, he will be able to play in a depth defensive role that can earn him another contract. With his inexperience too, I don’t believe that he will acquire much in ways of an extension either.
Not the youngest or skilled fix to the Leafs’ blueline, but potentially the savviest move Dubas could make, Jensen can fill that gaping hole on the right-side. He would come extremely cheap and could more than make-up for his cost as soon as he plays a game for the Leafs.
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