Just one day after making Carl Hagelin the newest Capital, Brian MacLellan made another move by trading for defenseman Nick Jensen.
As a depth defenseman for a team outside of the Metropolitan Division, chances are you may not know all that much about him. Here are a few interesting facts you should know about the newest Caps’ defenseman.
Jensen did not make his NHL debut until he was 26
One reason you may not have heard that much about Jensen is because he has not been in the NHL all that long. In fact, he did not make his debut until he was already 26. Talk about a late bloomer.
Jensen was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 150th overall in the 2009 draft. He entered college a year later and played three years at St. Cloud State. He was signed by Detroit in May 2013 and spent three seasons in the AHL getting recalled to the NHL once, but did not play. Finally in his fourth season with Grand Rapids, Jensen was recalled and made his debut on Dec. 20, 2016. He even recorded an assist in that game. He stuck around and played 49 games for the Red Wings that season. In February 2017, he signed his current contract, a two-year extension with Detroit. That explains why his total cap hit is a meager $812,500.
This is not a player who takes things for granted or is going to come to Washington and be disgruntled at being a third-pairing defenseman after having a more significant role with the Red Wings. He had to fight just to keep his NHL hopes alive.
Jensen was a healthy scratch on opening night and has not missed a game since
Jensen’s season has taken everyone completely by surprise, even his now former team. Defensive depth is one of the major weaknesses of the Detroit Red Wings and Jensen had an opportunity to impress in training camp. He didn’t. Instead, he found himself a healthy scratch on opening night as four rookies were dressed over him.
That was not an encouraging start to the season, but Jensen has played in every game since then and logged over 20 minutes of ice-time per game. He even logged over 28 minutes in a game on Dec. 31 against Florida. From healthy scratch to 28 minutes shows just how much trust he has gained over the course of the season.
Detroit has had to lean on him not only for its lack of depth but also for a myriad of injuries and he seemed to handle each challenge with aplomb.
Jensen has two goals this season and scored them both in the same game
Brooks Orpik and Jensen were the only two players in the NHL last season to play at least 80 games without scoring a goal. That is not his strength and not what he is asked to do, but in this day and age getting production is important. Getting blanked for a full season prompted Jensen to seek help to revamp his shot.
Jensen met with former NHLer Scott Bjugstad in the offseason to discuss adjusting how he positions his stick when he shoots. That work paid off on Oct. 11 when Jensen scored two goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has not scored since.
The Caps ultimately acquired Jensen for what he can do on the defensive end on the ice, on the penalty kill and his ability to break the puck out and quickly get it to the forwards, but there may be more offensive upside there than you may think.
Let’s be clear, I am not saying Jensen is going to start suddenly lighting up the scoresheet or become the next Mike Green. But he put work into his shot and he was a pretty decent offensive player in lower levels. His 31 points in his last season in college ranked first among the team’s defensemen and in the 2014-15 season, he scored six goals and 27 total points in the AHL. In his first NHL season he scored four goals and 13 points in just 49 games. Even his former college coach, Bob Motzko, was not sure if he was more of a forward or a defenseman when he first started recruiting him in high school. Luckily for Jensen, he stuck to defense or his career trajectory most likely would not have taken him this far.
The point is, Jensen’s primary responsibility will be defense, but he may be able to contribute a tad more offense than we saw in Detroit.
Jensen’s new deal is the same as the one Michal Kempny signed in 2018
It took Madison Bowey and a second-round draft pick to get Jensen (and a fifth-round draft pick) which seems pretty high for a third-pair rental, but soon after it became clear why MacLellan was willing to give up so much as it was announced Jensen had signed a new deal for four years and $10 million.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Kempny signed for the exact same term and the exact same price in 2018.
Now yes, the two contracts are not exactly the same – there are some differences in the signing bonuses and base salary – but in terms of the salary cap the deals are identical.
You may scratch your head at this and wonder why MacLellan would be willing to give the same deal he gave a top pairing defenseman to a third-pair defenseman, but I would suggest you look at it the other way. I do not see this as an overpay on Jensen, a right-shot defenseman who is entering the prime of his career, but more evidence of how much a steal Kempny was both in terms of the original trade and to re-sign. That’s not to say there’s no risk in re-signing Jensen or that the new deal is an automatic home run, it’s far too early to tell. Time will determine whether we look back at re-signing Jensen as a prescient move or overly aggressive.
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