Some people were worried during the Canucks preseason that they hadn’t seen enough of Jannik Hansen, who only played four preseason games while the Canucks’ brass took a close look at other players.
But the team already knew what to expect from the 29 year-old Dane: great speed and two-way play, a blistering shot, and an uncanny work ethic. While some deemed him expendable, Hansen’s presence in the lineup was cemented. The former ninth round draft pick by Vancouver in 2004 has been as solid in his role as any player in recent seasons.
The difference this year is that Hansen so far has produced better than anyone anticipated. He’s always expected to fill a checking line role and chip in offensively, but Hansen’s versatile skillset allows him to fit in almost anywhere in the lineup. While a number of players haven’t been consistent for the Canucks so far this year, Hansen has been his usual steady self, and the payoff is the success he’s currently experiencing on Vancouver’s top line.
Hansen Not Looking Out of Place in Increased Role
Hansen has played with the Sedin twins and in other top six forward roles at many points in his career, but since coach Willie Desjardins slotted him on the first line against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 10th, this stint has felt different. The right winger had three goals and four assists in seven games next to Henrik and Daniel as of November 24th, and he was a plus-five in those past seven games.
At his rate, Hansen is currently on pace for 22 goals and 26 assists this season, which would break career bests of 16 goals (2011-12, 2014-15) and 23 assists (2011-12). He’s also currently on track for a career-high 153 shots and his 14.6% shooting is the highest shooting percentage to date in his career.
“Canucks at the Quarter Pole” Nice start Jannik Hansen – his speed and checking is music for the top line. Hope he sticks: 6G, 7A…+11
— Bill Stratton (@bill_stratton) November 22, 2015
It’s fair to assume Hansen’s move up the lineup will last longer than previous promotions, likely until Radim Vrbata begins to turn the corner with his production. Hansen’s style compliments the Sedin’s well, as he’s got great speed, forechecks well and can take punishment in the hard-fought areas of the ice. It’s these elements that have allowed Hansen to find success throughout his career primarily as a good penalty-killer and third line forward, but also in occasional spots on the second or first line. The soft-spoken Dane has missed only 13 regular season games since 2010-11, and has been an unheralded asset to this team in recent years because of his versatility.
So while Hansen has long been regarded as a top-notch checking line forward, why in contrast has it taken so long for his recognition as a player who fits as a top six forward? Hansen’s forechecking abilities combined with his speed make him a great asset for players who are good with the puck – cue linemates Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
It’s the same ability that Alex Burrows had in his prime when he played alongside the Sedin twins, but the 35 year-old noticeably isn’t as fast as he was five seasons ago. While Vrbata is a pure sniper who can fire pucks thrown his way, no Canucks player is as efficient as Hansen when it comes to winning puck battles that so often set up scoring chances.
So while he very well may be the best fit on the first line for an extended period of time, Hansen knows he’s not the only suitable candidate to be rotated there:
“You get the opportunity and you run with it, then you help the team, and if not there are plenty of guys who can do it.” – Jannik Hansen.
Since being joined with Hansen, Daniel and Henrik jumped to sixth and 11th in NHL scoring this season, respectively, through their first 22 games. And with linemates like this, Hansen jumped to third in team scoring and had the best plus-minus rating on the Canucks in the same time frame.
Since being drafted 287th overall by the Canucks in 2004, Hansen’s NHL career path has been a slow and steady ascension. If there’s anything he’s shown in his play of late, he’s only still climbing.
Canucks contributor for The Hockey Writers. Maple Ridge, BC native. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or @ColtonnDavies on Twitter.