Friday, October 01, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Defensemen: Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen

 “This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.”
-- Winston Churchill  

The 2020-2021 season might have been the best season in Nick Jensen’s career. His numbers will never leap off the page, he is not that sort of defenseman.  But he was 2-12-14, plus-5, in 53 games after posting a scoring line of 0-8-8, plus-1, in 68 games in 2019-2020, his first full season as a Capital.  Although he did it playing mostly third pair minutes (he averaged 17:18 per game, second lowest of his career), he was able to provide the Caps with depth and a dependability he seemed to lack in the previous season.  How dependable?  In 53 games, only twice did Jensen post a minus rating in consecutive games (no such instances in his last 24 games) and never more than two in a row.  His rate statistics improved across the board in 2021-2022 from the previous season – goals-per-60 minutes (0.0 to 0.1), assists-per-60 (0.4 to 0.8), primary assists (0.2 to 0.4), secondary assists (0.2 to 0.4), points (0.4 to 0.9), and shots (3.0 to 3.9).

Odd Jensen Fact… Nick Jensen has an odd relationship with goal scoring for one who does not do it often.  In his five-year career he has alternated seasons with goals scored with those in which he was shut out – four in 2016-2017, none in 2017-2018, two in 2018-2019, none in 2019-2020, and two in 2020-2021.

Odd Jensen Fact II… Hits and blocks are just poppycock.  OK, bad rhyming aside, the Caps were 12-4-1 in the 17 games in which Jensen was not credited with a hit and 14-3-1 in the 18 games in which he did not record a hit.

Fearless’ Take… Jensen is not a big point producer, but his 0.9 points per 60 minutes last season was the third time in his career he hit that mark.  His 0.23 assists per game were a career high.  And, having him on the ice was a good thing. The Caps were 26-4-3 in the 33 games in which he skated at least 17 minutes.

Cheerless’ Take… Jensen’s 29 giveaways and 1.89 giveaways per 60 minutes were second-worst among defensemen.  His on-ice goal differential at even strength (plus-4) was second-worst among Caps defensemen dressing for at least 25 games.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 200 games as a Capital (currently 141)
  • 400 career NHL games (331)
  • 100 career penalty minutes (87)

The Big Question… Can Jensen maintain the momentum of his progress with Zdeno Chara having departed?

There seemed to be a line of thought last season that Nick Jensen’s performance, specifically his improvement over the 2010-2020 season, was the product of being paired with veteran Zdeno Chara from the beginning of the season.  While there might be something to that, Jensen was not a liability that could be exploited often.  He was not an offensive counterpart to Chara, but he did have a latent for moving the puck up ice out of harm’s way or to a teammate.  The open question here is whether Jensen, who will be skating with a new partner, perhaps a revolving door of partners (Trevor van Riemsdyk, Martin Fehervary, Matt Irwin among the possibilities).  Jensen has the opportunity, and the responsibility that accompanies it, of being the “senior” member of the third pairing, and much will fall to him to ensure that the third pair is not a liability.  If he succeeds, perhaps the experience Chara had that he could convey to Jensen will have been a lasting benefit.  Or, perhaps as likely, it will be Jensen’s taking another step forward in his development.

In the end…

You could say Nick Jensen is a late bloomer.  He did not play in his first NHL game until he was 26 years old, and he is embarking on only his sixth NHL season with fewer than 350 regular season games of experience.  One wonders if he still has some upside to explore.  If that upside is there, it would seem unlikely it would manifest itself in ways the casual observer would notice.  It will be in the “not noticing” where Jensen’s contributions lie – avoiding turnovers that lead to odd man breaks, using position and stick work more than physical force to prevent opponents from scoring chances, consuming minutes to relieve first and second pairs of logging too much ice time, especially over a long season.  For Jensen, whatever ease or comfort he might have enjoyed as Zdeno Chara’s partner is in the past.  He will be counted on to deliver a measure of leadership on the back line.

Projection: 79 games, 2-13-15, plus-7