Detroit — Two years ago, defenseman Nick Jensen showed the ability to provide much-needed offense.
Jensen had 13 points, including four goals, in 49 promising games.
But last season was a disappointment. There were no goals in 81 games, despite being credited with 107 shots on net.
Jensen did have 15 assists. But from an offensive standpoint, many felt Jensen had taken a step back.
So, days away from the 2018-19 regular season, Jensen did everything he could this summer to work on his offensive game.
Jensen believes he’s capable of much more offensively.
“I believe I can,” Jensen said. “One of the key aspects of creating offense is getting up in the playmaking in even-man rushes, odd-man rushes, those 3-on-3's and 4-on-3's, and being that second wave of offense. Being able to skate is a big part of that and I believe I can use my skating ability to create offense in that way.”
Knowing the competition for jobs in camp — young defensemen Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek, Vili Saarjarvi and Libor Sulak have all impressed during training camp and the exhibition season — Jensen worked hard over the summer to improve his shot.
“Last year was a little disappointing with the amount of shots I had and the opportunities I had with zero goals,” Jensen said. “I am not the highest skilled guy. I wasn’t born with all-star skill but there’s some there and I try to develop that. So I worked with a shooting coach a little bit and I talked to Blash (coach Jeff Blashill) about what I can do to put myself in a better spot to make the team.
“He said, ‘Just making sure being able to handle the puck and deliver the puck up ice to the forwards.’ So I worked with a stickhandling coach a little bit, just anything I could do to advance my game and keep playing on this team and in this league."
Watching the young defensemen push the veterans on the roster reminds Jensen, 28, when he, too, was in a position of reaching the NHL.
“A lot of young guys are making a push to try and make the team, like I was years back when I was trying to make team,” Jensen said. “My main focus right now is the same focus it has been even in years past when I was playing on this team. It’s you’ve got to show up every day and you’ve got to earn it every day because nothing is going to be given to you.
“I’m not on the team yet. I have to use every day, every game I have to make my case why I should keep playing in this league and keep playing for this team.”
Jensen earned confidence last spring when Blashill placed him on Team USA’s roster at the men’s world championships (Team USA won the bronze medal).
“It was an amazing experience being able to put on the Team USA jersey,” Jensen said. “It’s something special on its own, and then playing over there with all the great players, it was a great experience, great for your confidence. You can always put that under your vest and I can say I’ve done that.
“It was an experience I won’t forget.”
Saturday’s exhibition game against Toronto will be the final preseason game before the regular season starts Thursday at home against Columbus.
Blashill wants to make sure his roster maintains an intense approach heading into the weekend.
Friday’s game in Toronto was expected to be more heavy with NHL players, while Saturday’s will be a final audition for young players on the fringe of making the NHL.
“We just want to make sure we’re playing real good hockey,” Blashill said. “I don’t look at who (is making the roster) as much as every single day who is winning their ice time.”
Facing the Leafs
Forward Michael Rasmussen, who has all but made the Opening Night roster, was looking forward to facing the Leafs.
Rasmussen is from British Columbia, but like any Canadian hockey fan, has strong feelings — good or bad — about the Maple Leafs.
“They were always a good team,” Rasmussen said about growing up watching the Leafs. “I liked Mats Sundin, watching him, so I liked them. Obviously now it’s kind of the opposite end of the spectrum and I get to compete against them. Watching all the 'Hockey Night in Canada' and stuff like that, definitely its going to be pretty cool (playing against Toronto).”
Maple Leafs at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The teams see each other for the second time in two nights. It’s the final exhibition for the Wings, who open the regular season Thursday at home against Columbus.