After the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to get a key addition to their blue line, they still might need some help before they enter the postseason. Nick Jensen can be that help.
Not widely known before this year, Jensen is really only playing his second year of being an NHL regular for the Detroit Red Wings. A victim of the over-ripening philosophy within the Red Wings organization, he spent a total of four years and 222 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL.
Someone that makes their NHL debut at age 26 is not a player that is usually highly sought after, but Jensen is a different case. Never getting his full chance to make the jump to the Red Wings, he has been an extremely solid defenceman in his short NHL career.
His raw point totals in the NHL are not impressive, but the Leafs certainly have enough point-producing defencemen for now. In a total of 180 NHL games, Jensen has six goals and 33 assists – he’s not there to put up big numbers.
Not to be depended on for offence, Jensen has outstanding and consistent defensive numbers, especially considering the quality of teams he has been on.
On a dreadful Red Wings team, Jensen has excelled as most likely their best all-around defenceman.
His point totals won’t shock or impress, but when he is out on the ice, Jensen has consistently been dependable. There are countless adjectives to describe his play, but he is essentially someone you acquire when you want your blue line to be stable and not giving up more scoring chances than they should.
As seen here, Jensen has easily been the Red Wings most effective defenceman this year at limiting scoring chances but not being a complete offensive blackhole.
Either leading the Red Wings defencemen or near the top of the list, Jensen’s on-ice expected goals for percentage is impressive. To only go below 50% for a couple weeks in late November on this Red Wings team is a tall task, but he was able to do it.
His most common partners at even-strength this season have been Niklas Kronwall (273 mins.) and Danny DeKeyser (262 mins.), just by their reputations alone, Jensen has had it fairly rough. Both would be considered the opposite of agile skaters and capable puck-moving defencemen.
But for having the most minutes among Red Wings defensive pairings, the fact that both units are hovering around the 49 CF% at 5v5 is a miracle with this team.
Jensen is also part of the pairing that has the highest CF% on the Red Wings, his partnership with rookie Dennis Cholowski. He is arguably the most mobile defenceman the Red Wings have and when they’re together, they have a 56.73 CF% at 5v5.
It’s a fairly easy correlation that when Jensen is with a more mobile, offensively-minded partner, their on-ice CF% increases. So imagine Nick Jensen next to Jake Gardiner.
Already known as an outstanding defenceman that can suppress shots, Gardiner with Jensen next to him will be an immediate upgrade from what he has now.
Using EvolvingWild’s RAPM graphs that tell a fairly simplified story of what a player contributes on the ice, Jensen can be instantly compared to Gardiner’s current partner, Nikita Zaitsev.
These charts are from 2015-2018, so not including this season, but they both have similar numbers to what they had last season.
Jensen has not gotten any luck when it comes to actually having the puck end up in the back of the net while he’s on the ice. From 2016-2018, the Wings have placed third-last in the Eastern Conference for goals for, averaging just above 200 goals per season. So, of course, Jensen’s Off_GF bar is slightly below zero, just like how Zaitsev is usually on the ice with the star forwards of the Leafs, so his bar is slightly above.
The main difference is obviously defence. Even with defensive stalwart Gardiner beside him, Zaitsev’s expected goals and corsi for totals are complete garbage. While Nick Jensen has succeeded even while having to drag around the stale body of Kronwall and the defenceman that looks like he’s skating in molasses, Danny DeKeyser.
Just like Friday night against the Leafs, paired with Danny DeKeyser, he was able to have a 57.14 CF% at 5v5 in 14:28. What makes it even more impressive is that the Leaf forward that he faced the most during that game was Auston Matthews – a total of 9:21 on the ice against one another at 5v5.
Jensen had the tough matchup and was still able to bring the Red Wings up above the Leafs.
As a collective, every Leafs fan saw some glimpses of what Nick Jensen could bring to their team on Friday night. His skating ability and mobility with or without the puck was on display.
You: Hating this game because the Leafs aren't playing well.
Me: Enjoying this game because of Nick Jensen. pic.twitter.com/gar1pOlRPy
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) February 2, 2019
Not only do his numbers fit perfectly with this team, but stylistically, Jensen just seems like a Leaf in the year 2019. Especially during that shift last night where Jensen was able to sustain some offensive pressure and beat out some Leafs skaters to the puck.
His play seems extremely complimentary to this team.
The only negative aspect I could see happening is Babcock not putting him in the lineup where he should succeed.
Acquiring Jake Muzzin last week, it was obvious that he would be given a spot on the top-four and most likely on the top pair. But if Dubas makes a trade for Jensen, does he seem like a player that would just instantly be played over the likes of Zaitsev or Ron Hainsey?
Neither of them would be scratched most likely, so unless one of them goes the other way or is in a separate trade, would this acquisition really have enough of a positive effect? It doesn’t make sense to scratch Dermott, obviously, so maybe not.
But the main reason to really make trades it to get better players, so regardless of where he could potentially fit, if the price makes sense, you make the trade.
Jensen’s contract makes the most sense for the Leafs as well. Dubas was quoted earlier this season, saying that he would rather acquire players with term. But with Jensen being a pending UFA and only having an $800,000 cap hit, this is certainly a move to make regardless of his upcoming free agency.
His style of play, his ability to suppress shot attempts, and him not being a complete offensive black hole, Nick Jensen might just be the next move to raise the talent floor and secure the likelihood of a long run into the playoffs for this Leafs team.