The best plans do not always get pulled off in time for deadline. I tried to set up an interview with Jiri Fischer, the Detroit Red Wings’ Director of Player Development, for a feature story I
wrote about St. Cloud State defenseman Nick Jensen for the Dec. 13 edition of the Times. Fischer did call me. Unfortunately, he got back to me on Dec. 18. But as long as I had him on the phone, I figured I should get his taken on Jensen and share it here on the blog.
Jensen, a junior from Rogers, is a fifth-round draft pick of Detroit. Fischer and Detroit head coach Mike Babcock were in attendance for both games of the Huskies’ series Dec. 7-8 against Nebraska-Omaha.
The NHL lockout has given Babcock some added free time and Fischer said that Babcock has seen several of the team’s top prospects play.
“Mike is one of the hardest working guys in hockey,” Fischer said. “With the lockout going on, he’s been going around to watch our prospects in the American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League, college and juniors. He’s trying to see them all because he’s not normally able to see those guys play during a season.
“It was a great trip,” Fischer said of their trip to St. Cloud State. “I think I can say on Mike’s behalf that he was very pleased.”
Jensen was drafted by the Red Wings in the 2009 NHL Draft. Fischer, a former first-round pick of the Red Wings as a defenseman, has been in charge of player development for six seasons. Fischer has seen Jensen play since he played in juniors for Green Bay of the United States Hockey League.
“When he was playing at green Bay, I was at the game before we drafted him,” Fischer said. “I saw one of his first fights in the USHL. Watching Nick, everybody sees the speed and the way he can skate, handle the puck and breakt it out of the defensive zone. He’s doing a great job.
“But that one time at the game where he dropped his gloves, I knew he was a player. It’s been great watching him grow.”
He said he has seen continued progress out Jensen, who is listed at 6-foot and 193 pounds. Fischer said he agrees with St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko about when Jensen is at his best.
“When he lets the game come to him instead of forcing it,” Fischer said. “Players need to dominate where they’re at. I really try to be very supportive and coach Motzko has figured out a good game plan for him.
“He just needs to keep the game simple. Like every young defenseman, he needs to not overhandle the puck. When he’s passing the puck, forwards should not be slowing down to get the puck. He needs to be moving the puck quickly.”
Jensen’s father, Jeff, played hockey for Lake Superior State and was a draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche. When you talk to Jensen about how he got to be the player he is, he talks about his father every time. Fischer said that Jeff made good decisions with how to help his son from an early age.
“I’ve had a lot of talks with Nick’s dad. He started skating with him when he was 2 years old. He would skate around the ice with Nick in his hands and just let his skates be on the ice and he’d not let him fall,” Fischer said. “That’s what it takes. Having such a good dad helps a lot.”
NICK JENSEN’S CAREER STATISTICS
|2008-09 Green Bay (USHL)||59||5||18||23||29||+35|
|2009-10 Green Bay (USHL)||65||8||27||35||41||+38|
|2010-11 SCSU (WCHA)||38||5||18||23||18||-5|
|2011-12 SCSU (WCHA)||39||6||26||32||4||+14|
|2012-13 SCSU (WCHA)||18||1||13||14||8||+5|
NOVAK IS IN THE DETROIT SYSTEM
Fischer has seen Travis Novak play this season for Toledo in the East Coast Hockey League. Toledo is Detroit’s ECHL affiliate.
Novak, who finished his eligibility last season with St. Cloud State, has three goals, eight assists, 18 penalty minutes and is a minus-5 in 24 games. In December, Novak has three goals and two assists in nine games.
“He was a little slow out of the gate,” Fischer said. “But he scored last weekend.”
Fischer had some praise for Novak, who was an undrafted free agent signing. What stands out about Novak?
“His commitment to the game. He’s a smart guy and can really focus when he’s off the ice. He’s not one of those guys wandering in the mind,” Fischer said. “He knows what he wants and works hard. He can fly and shoot and score.
“Moving Travis to center last year was a great move by Coach Motzko,” Fischer said. Novak had career-bests of 12 goals and 25 points in 36 games last season for the Huskies. “That was kind of Travis’ coming out party.”
THE NHL LOCKOUT
The NHL lockout has had an effect on minor league teams throughout North America. Fischer said that there are players who have had to make adjustments because of the flood of players with two-way contracts playing in the minors during the lockout.
“There are players playing in the East Coast Hockey League who think they should be in the AHL, but aren’t because of the lockout,” Fischer said. “I don’t think the ECHL gets enough credit for being a good league. But the trickling down has really affected the amount of talent in the league this year.
“But the bottom line is respecting the league where you’re at. If you think you’re an American Leaguer and you’re playing in the ECHL — that argument doesn’t go anywhere. You’ve got to stay hungry at whatever level you’re playing at.”