Published November 20, 2014
VANCOUVER -- Jannik Hansen's teammates jokingly call him the Canucks' best practice player. He was pretty darn good in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, too.
Hansen threaded a perfect pass across the slot to Raffi Torres for the winning goal, a feed that went under Zdeno Chara and left Tim Thomas on a string for the first time all night. The Danish winger nearly beat Thomas on a breakaway five minutes into the third period and had two other shots that Thomas had to swat away in the final 20 minutes of Game 1.
He also had two hits and two blocked shots while playing the all-around game the Canucks have come to expect and need from him on a consistent basis.
If this is how future Danes are going to perform in the Stanley Cup Final, NHL scouts might start flocking to Denmark to try to pick off even the most borderline prospects. Hansen is the first of his countrymen to play for the Cup.
"He's a very underrated player," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said of Hansen. "The guys that see him day in and day out get to appreciate how good he is. We joke around that he's our best practice player and he usually is, but he's gotten better over the last few years. He's been here for a long time now and he just keeps getting better and better. He's a big part of our team's success."
Hansen has been that way all season despite going long stretches without scoring a goal. He finished with only 9 to go along with 20 assists.
Instead, the Canucks appreciate him for all the other things he can do, like skating hard and fast to get in on the forecheck, tossing out a big hit now and again and playing such solid defense that he's used on the second penalty-kill unit. Until he broke his hand on Gilbert Brule's helmet during a fight in a preseason game last year, Hansen wasn't afraid to drop the mitts either -- he did so five times in his one season with the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL.
"During the regular season he can go 15 to 20 games without you even noticing him if you're sitting up in the stands, but he does a lot of good things for us," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "The way he skates, he can skate with anybody in the League."
Hansen needed a few years to realize that he won't be able to just get by on his skating and the offensive ability he thought would be good enough to make him a top-six forward in the NHL.
This is his third full season with the Canucks -- but the first time he played all 82 games. Hansen spent a lot of time in the press box as a healthy scratch from 2008-10. He also spent a few weeks down in the minors with the Manitoba Moose recovering from some injuries.
The book on him was that he could always skate, but his hands were like stones and he couldn't finish so there was no way coach Alain Vigneault could use him in the top six. Then again, he wasn't gritty enough to play in their bottom six either.
The Canucks were so mystified on what to do with him that they let him go to arbitration last summer. Hansen didn't have many stats to back up his argument (36 points in 107 NHL regular season games), but he still got a one-year, one-way deal for $850,000, a raise from the $550,000 he was making on a two-way deal for 2009-10.
He's blossomed into someone who could be in for a bigger raise this summer as a restricted free agent.
"If you want to play on a team like this that is going to compete for the Cup, you have to fill any role that is given to you," Hansen said. "If you look at our lineup, there are only so many players that can play on the first or second line. If you don't have the same skill set that they do you have to find a new way to contribute."
Vigneault credited ex-Canuck farmhand and longtime NHL veteran Mike Keane with teaching Hansen lessons on positional play and penalty-killing during the time they spent together in Manitoba. Hansen also said that Keane hinted to him that he better learn a defensive game if he wanted to stick in the NHL; that was the same message he got from Vigneault at the end of last season.
"It's paying off now," Vigneault said. "He's been with us for a couple of consecutive years and he's logging important minutes. (Wednesday) night obviously was a great game where he used his skill set. He's real good when he plays with an edge and he played with an edge (in Game 1). That came in very handy for us."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl