Over two decades ago, Canada exported a player from the OHL to Denmark. Now, in 2010, that player’s son has returned the favor and is playing a key role in driving the Oshawa Generals to new heights in this young OHL season.
The former, Dan Jensen, enjoyed a long and storied career in the Danish professional league. His son, Nicklas, has already started turning heads and has a solid chance at ascending to the game’s top level — the NHL.
While the Danish professional league is a quality circuit, the younger Jensen explained that the level of attention to the game here is something to which he’s had to adjust.
“Well, it’s a little weird coming from Denmark to over here and with all the news stuff that’s out there, you can see your ranking almost every month and see it going up and down,” he said. “But I was pretty excited to see where I was ranked.”
Jensen has been projected to go late in the first round or early in the second at the 2011 NHL entry draft. And with a pair of other highly rated prospects on the Generals’ roster in the forms of Boone Jenner and Lucas Lessio, he said he realizes that there will be plenty of eyes in the stands watching him — eyes of his potential future employer.
“Of course you think about it. Every game you have to focus on the game and not who’s watching you in the stands,” Jensen explained. “Just play your game think about who’s there and everything else — you can focus on that after the game.”
The Generals feature five players who have already been drafted into the NHL, including a first-round selection in Calvin de Haan (NYI) and a second-rounder in Christian Thomas (NYR). Jensen added that he’ll be looking at leaning on them for advice later in the season.
“I’ll probably talk with them later in the season when the time’s closer to the draft,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about it too much this year. I don’t want to be thinking about next year already — I just want to focus on my game now and getting as good as I can.”
Another person upon whom he’s relied for advice is his father. “He’s been there all my life. He’s probably the biggest reason that I’m playing hockey,” Jensen explained. “He told me to just keep things simple over here, go to the net, and shoot. The game’s more simple here compared to Europe. There’s a little more dangling in Europe.”
Dan Jensen played four years in the OHL in the mid-’80s — three with the Peterborough Petes — before playing professionally in Denmark, where he made his home following his playing days. Jensen’s father enjoyed a solid 15-year career in Denmark, playing in 10 World Championships with the national squad before retiring. Hockey fans north of the 49th parallel may remember the elder Jensen for helping to create one of the more shocking events in Canadian international hockey history when he scored to help Denmark tie the heavily favoured Canucks 2-2 in the 2003 World Hockey Championships in Turku, Finland.
Generals’ head coach and general manager, Chris DiPietro, explained that having a Canadian father has paid dividends in Jensen’s transition to the Canadian game.
“The good thing is that he speaks English very, very well. He understands it, he speaks it well,” DiPietro explained. “But most importantly for me he’s got a support system — his father’s family’s nearby, they live in Richmond Hill so that’s not far for him. He’s fit in very well.
“He’s a very intense kid and wants to succeed, wants to be counted on, and wants to be one of the best.”
To date, Jensen has shown that he’s able to come up big in big situations. While this is the younger Jensen’s first season in North America after playing with Herning in Denmark, where he scored 12 goals and added 14 assists in 34 games. He also was a key member of the Danish U-18 and U-20 squads: at the U-18 championships last year he accounted for a whopping 13 goals and two assists in five games; at the World Juniors he averaged a point-per-game in his five WJC contests, including scoring three goals. In nine OHL games to date, he’s scored five goals and added three assists.
“When the game’s on the line, he’s one of those guys at the end who wants the puck,” DiPietro added. “A lot of times, when it comes to imports, you just don’t know. The thing for him, he wants to be one of those guys that wants to be a difference maker. That’s been a great surprise. I think his transition’s been great so far, because he skates so well, handles the puck well.
“As I said, he’s intense and — if you want to call it the Canadian mentality — he’s got that!”
Jensen explained that he chose the OHL because he wants to improve his overall game and despite playing against men in the Danish professional league, he felt that his career would be better served by joining the OHL ranks.
“Since the game is better over here, I wanted to get better and that’s why I came,” he explained. “Over here everbody’s skilled. Back home you can usually find a ‘D’ that’s a little weaker than the other ‘D’ while over here everyone’s skilled. The game over here is harder to play.
“The ice surface is a lot smaller over here so everything is a lot faster. They use their bodies a little bit more over here. Over there, it was older guys that I played with, but now I’m with guys my own age. They have more skill over here and it’s a better game.”
Only a few weeks into the OHL season, Jensen said he feels like he’s gained a comfort level on Canadian soil. Learning about his fellow Generals was the biggest challenge, he added.
“In the start it was getting to know all the players and the styles of my teammates to play with, of course,” Jensen explained. “Now I’m getting used to that. I don’t think there’s that much of a challenging difference — things here are a little more fast. You might have to come out a little quicker, but I don’t think there’s that much of a difference from Denmark.
“It’s a pretty good league in Denmark. Over here it’s a little bit faster and obviously a little bit more skilled, but it’s not that big of a difference.”
Oshawa is a squad that’s dominated by youth — a fact that DiPietro said has actually been of benefit to Jensen’s transition. “He’s fit in very well — there’s been no issues there,” he said. “It’s actually been great — the one thing about having a young team is that everyone is pretty much on the same page.”
Naturally, Jensen admitted to missing some aspects of Danish life, but he’s quite enjoying his present surroundings. “It’s really great in Oshawa. I like everyone there and the team is super. It’s been worth it.
“Of course I miss all my friends and my family.”
And when asked if he missed any of the creature comforts of his homeland, he served up what could be considered a somewhat damning indictment of Danish cuisine.
“The food? Not really,” he said, laughing.