BlueJackets.com Catches Up with Prospect Jake Hansen
Columbus prospect Jake Hansen has made a big splash in his first full season of play in the United States Hockey League.
The 18-year-old Minnesota native, selected 68th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2007 Entry Draft, showcased his superior offensive skills as a junior in the Minnesota high school system last year, scoring 26 goals, with 40 assists through 25 games.
Hansen also got a taste of a higher level that same season as he played in 15 games with the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede.
Now a senior in high school, the gritty forward has blossomed into one of the more dangerous players in the league. Through 42 games with the Stampede, he was tied for third in the USHL in goals with 23, including a league-best five game winners. But Hansen is also becoming a much more well-rounded player thanks to Sioux Falls GM/Head Coach Kevin Hartzell.
BlueJackets.com: How do you feel you've adjusted to your first full year of junior hockey?
Jake Hansen: I had a really slow start. I wasn't too happy, I wasn't playing much. Coach likes to play little mind games but he's the best coach I've ever had. As I was playing more, I got on a real hot streak where I had 10 goals in five or six games. Since then, I've been averaging about a point a game. Lately, I've been pretty pleased with my play, especially defensively. It's a little disappointing the way we're up and down (as a team). I wish we could be a little higher in the standings - (the USHL has) some good teams.
CBJ.com: It sounds like Coach was challenging you pretty early on?
JH: He was trying to prove a point. I was, if want to call it, a hotshot coming out of high school and when you come to this league that doesn't mean anything at all. He wanted to challenge me. He wanted me to come in and work for my spot. I had it handed to me coming up and I've learned a lot, you need to play every day in practice and you need to perform in every game. You can't screw up or you're going to be sat. I absolutely love my coach. He's done nothing but good things for me. He knows I can put the puck in the net so he helps me one-on-one with defensive drills.
CBJ.com: What have been the most notable differences between playing in high school and moving up to the USHL?
JH: Everything is different. The speed, it's not even comparable. Every kid here, if they're not six feet, they're all built. You've got fighting in this league. The speed, the strength, just the ability of the playmakers around you, if you make a mistake, you're most likely gonna pay. Last year (in high school), you could get away with not playing defense. You could go behind the net and take it end to end. The goalies are better, the defense, coaching is obviously better. It's not even close.
CBJ.com: Where do you feel you've improved the most?
JH: Definitely with strength. I'm getting so much stronger from the weight room. And breaking the puck out. That's something our team takes pride in and I do too. Our coaches work on that, winning battles with defensemen and making plays. You used to be able to catch it in high school and skate it out, but here you either have a high forward on you or a defenseman that's your man. My defensive play is better and so is my work ethic. I know I have to work harder. I figure I can put points up, that's what they brought me in here to do. I think I've done well with that but I have to challenge myself and work hard and know that it's not going to be a breeze and that I'm going to play just because I was drafted.
CBJ.com: You've had some success on the power play this season (six goals and nine assists through 42 games). What does that do in terms of giving a young player confidence, knowing the team is relying on you in critical special teams situations?
JH: That's something I love. I love the pressure. It shows your coach has the confidence to put you out there. In this league, you can have up to 10 power plays a game. That's huge. They put me in the slot and we have a great playmaker in Jack (Connolly, one of Hansen's regular linemates), who always finds me in the slot. It's nice to get those tap ins. I've formed some good chemistry with Jack.
CBJ.com: So was hockey always in the Hansen family genes?
JH: My uncle John played Division I for Bemidji State. He was a pretty good player. He talked to some NHL teams but he blew his knee out. And my brother Zach is at Quinnipiac University.
CBJ.com: How did you gravitate towards the game as a youngster?
JH: We moved to White Bear Lake before I was born. All it is is hockey there. I just picked up the stick when I was younger. My dad wanted me to play because he was a fan and he was pretty pleased I adapted to the sport well.
CBJ.com: You've mentioned in the past that you've always been a big fan of NHL stars Teemu Selanne and Peter Forsberg. Who else did you watch growing up?
JH: My favorite player of all time is Martin Brodeur. For some reason, he caught my eye and I just love watching him play. I loved Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora when they were on a line together with the Devils. I've never seen a line with the chemistry they had, especially the way they tore it up in the playoffs. That was fun to watch.
CBJ.com: You'll be attending the University of Minnesota next year. Was it a given that you would be staying in your home state to play your college hockey?
JH: I had quite a few choices. At first, I really didn't care about staying close to home. Then I left for some of my junior year (of high school) and knew I was going to leave my senior year for sure and then thought maybe I want to stay close to home. I narrowed it down to North Dakota and Minnesota. North Dakota, I didn't know how I could turn that down when I went there. But then I went to the U and I got along with the coaching staff so well. They told me they let the forwards run around down low.
CBJ.com: Speaking of school, how much of a challenge has it been balancing your senior year and a full schedule of junior hockey?
JH: It's been up and down. Going to the U, it's a pretty good school so I've had to keep my grades up. I've had to work hard this year and last year. I'm used to it but there are definitely days where you don't get as much sleep and you're dead tired. It wears on you. It's been different going to a new school where you don't know people and you're trying to make new friends. But it's not that big of a deal, I'm a pretty outgoing guy.
CBJ.com: What were your thoughts when you heard the news that the Jackets took you 68th overall in the NHL Draft?
JH: I was playing golf when I got the phone call and found out I was drafted. It was pretty cool. It was probably the best feeling I've ever had in my life.