After dealing away a 2020 second-round pick and prospect Madison Bowey to the Detroit Red Wings for Nick Jensen in February, it was clear that the Washington Capitals had big plans for the defenseman.
Jensen is mobile, sees the rink well and is responsible with the puck in his own end. Plus, as a 28-year-old defenseman, he should be in the prime of his NHL career. The Capitals factored all of this in when they offered him a four-year extension worth $10 million soon after he joined the team.
Jensen is about to start his first full season with the club and his stock is only rising, but will he step up with the increased role the Capitals have planned for him?
Predicting Offensive Production
In his first season with the Red Wings in 2016-17, Jensen posted four goals and 13 points in 49 games. Two seasons later, he followed that up with 20 points over 80 games, all but two of them assists, with the Capitals and the Red Wings. During seven playoff games with the Capitals, he was held off the scoresheet. Not exactly the production curve the team was hoping to see.
To be sure, the Capitals did not trade for him because of his offensive prowess. While Jensen can, and should, contribute in the scoring department, he will be relied on to provide stability in the defensive zone.
Looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, somewhere around five goals and 30 points would be a realistic target. With the offensive talent around him, his ability to make sound outlet passes and with an increased role with the team, that is definitely achievable. Look for Jensen’s numbers to increase as he settles in for a full season with his first training camp under his belt in his new home.
The Under Secretary of Defense?
There is no doubt that John Carlson will be the leader of the defensive core in Washington. The departure of Matt Niskanen via trade and Brooks Orpik’s retirement, however, mean that Jensen will be leaned on to take a larger role on the ice and in the locker room.
He has all the attributes a team wants in a solid defensive-minded blueliner. At 6-feet, 194 pounds, he has the size to move opponents and punish in the corners. Despite some inconsistent play in last season’s playoffs and a minus-two rating, he has the ability to be a solid contributor in the transition game.
Consider this, before he was acquired by the Capitals, the team was averaging 3.88 goals against per game. After his arrival, the team improved their goals-against average to 2.55. That’s not all due to Jensen’s arrival but it’s an impressive swing in the right direction.
Jensen’s plus/minus stat line is also moving in the right direction. In his first full season with the Red Wings (2017-18), he was a minus-eight. Last season, he combined for a plus-four with both the Red Wings and the Capitals. Part of that improvement can be attributed to his move to a better team, but it can also be linked to his maturation as a player and getting used to the skill level in the NHL.
He should be well-situated to improve on his numbers this season. If the upward trend in his game continues, he should aim for a range of plus-10 to plus-15, a goal that is easily within his reach. Anything less than that may indicate that his game isn’t improving at the rate the Capitals had hoped for when they traded for him.
Special Teams Resurgence
The additions of Carl Hagelin, Radko Gudas and Jensen were an acknowledgement that the Capitals needed to improve on the penalty kill. Before the additions of Jensen and Hagelin, the team struggled and was killing penalties at a very unimpressive rate of less than 80 percent.
These three players are well positioned to improve that kill rate. They are no strangers to special teams duty and are an upgrade for Capitals. The penalty kill will be a focus during training camp, which is set to commence this week. With the opportunity for the three players to learn each others’ games, look for the team’s penalty kill success rate to improve considerably.
The Bottom Line
The combination of having one more year of NHL experience, a full training camp with his new team, his size, and his mobility all point to Jensen having a breakout season. It also points to the Capitals leaning more heavily on him to be a leader on and off the ice.
He should be up for the challenge. Look for him to provide a significant contribution and be an important component in the Capitals’ drive for another Stanley Cup.
Reporting on Hockey at the speed of write. I am a former U.S. Men’s National Ball Hockey Team player, current G.M. of the Women’s National Ball Hockey Program and Head Coach of the First Ladies Hockey Club based in Washington, D.C.