A.J. Jenks | Walleye Forward Overcoming & Finding Home in Toledo

A.J. Jenks | Walleye Forward Overcoming & Finding Home in Toledo

October 6, 2018 1 By Rachel Anderson

AJ Jenks is no stranger to change. Having eight professional seasons under his belt, Jenks has learned the importance of discipline, balance, and recovery. At the age of 28, Jenks has adapted to the demands of the league as well as the struggles it presents.

In Constant Transition

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Toledo Walleye Forward, AJ Jenks, practices at the Huntington Arena. Photo Credit: Jenae Anderson

Jenks didn’t always find a home in Toledo. Much of his pro career has been spent hopping from one team to the next. After initially landing with the AHL Rochester Americans, Jenks very soon found himself a bit of a floater. The 2011-12 season alone, AJ found himself on the San Antonio Rampage (AHL), Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL), and Charlotte Checkers (AHL) rosters. “Moving around a lot certainly presents plenty of challenges, especially in the middle of a season,” AJ told Access Hockey MI, “You have to take it in stride and just embrace the opportunity in front of you.” Having his sights set on the NHL, AJ followed his own advice and embraced the challenge of adaptation. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. Jenks told Access Hockey MI, “It’s actually a lot of fun meeting lots of new people and creating new relationships, as well as learning from new coaches and players you may not have shared the ice with before.”

Being the new guy didn’t phase Jenks, which allowed him to flow through the AHL and ECHL with little to no inconvenience to his game. By the time the 2013-14 season rolled around, Jenks had played for five different teams, returning to the Charlotte Checkers and Florida Everblades (AHL) a few times. Become a “loan” player, Jenks knew his roster time with each team would be limited, so he determined to make the most of it.

Jenks Adapts to Being Loan Player & Finding His Way to Toledo

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AJ Jenks skates in practice for the Toledo Walleye, 2018. Photo Credit: Jenae Anderson

Where many would become frustrated at the lack of consistency and continual new faces, Jenks saw it as a chance to meet new people and experience new things. “In my experience, being loaned to different teams throughout the years has gone pretty smoothly,” he stated, “Rosters in these leagues are constantly changing, and pretty much everyone embraces it and makes it easier being the ‘new guy’.”

AJ found his way to Toledo during the 2014-15 season, he wasted no time in finding the net. Earning 25 points in 42 regular season games and 12 points in 20 post-season games, Jenks quickly became a favorite in Toledo. Jenks was and is still a loaner, but since then, his time in Toledo has been beyond productive. Amping up his productivity during the 2015-16 season, AJ an incredible 45 points in 55 regular season games. More than a point a night. Continuing the trend, he tallied 46 points in 46 games during the 2016-17 regular season campaign. It would seem that Jenks had found his home ice at last.

Home Ice, Injury, and Overcoming

His unique resume contributes heavily to his incredible on-ice dominance. “I think one asset I bring to our team in Toledo that is relatively unique is experience,” he said, “I’m only 28, but this will be my 9th pro season after 4 seasons in the OHL as well as winning a World Junior Championship. I’ve been a lot of places, seen a lot of things, and believe that helps me in finding a role to best help our team.” There is no denying the skill level acquired from his years of adapting to various leagues and teams. The lessons derived from his experiences show when he takes the ice in Toledo.

It hasn’t always been cool runnings for Jenks however. Injury has been hot on his heels since his entrance into pro hockey. Jenks told Access Hockey MI, “Throughout my pro career to this point, I’d say the biggest challenge for me has been staying healthy. I’ve had significant injuries in 7 of my 8 seasons as a pro and have missed way too many games,” he said. “I almost never missed games playing juniors in the OHL, so struggling to stay healthy in pro has been very frustrating for me.” Battling through injury and subsequent recovery has improved A.J’s mental strength. Adapting to the challenges recovery presents and finding the fortitude to remain focused on his performance, Jenks has readjusted his goals and mindset.

A Refreshed Focus

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AJ Jenks represented the Toledo Walleye in the 2017-18 season as an Alternate Captain. Photo Credit: Jenae Anderson

In the beginning, Jenks had grand plans of making it to the NHL. Unfortunately, having to deal with injury sidelined those plans. Fast forward eight seasons, the same frustrations that come from not being in the NHL are not to be found. He’s refocused and patient. “When I turned pro, my goals were a little different than they currently are. I always wanted and worked my hardest to play in the NHL,” he said, “with that being said I’m still proud of the things I have accomplished thus far, and I am still driven to accomplish more and more, and to keep playing at a high level.” Jenks is now more team focused. Its safe to say that “making it” is in the back of his mind, but he now better understands his place on the team. “Since I haven’t accomplished that yet I have adjusted my goals to center more around team accomplishments in Toledo,” he stated.

A.J. hasn’t given up on the NHL. He skates hard, always has a smile on his face and passion for the game. “I am not where I had hoped (or) wanted to be at this point in my career but I am still grateful to be in the position that I am.” Jenks is a welcomed fixture in Toledo and will continue to be so. He’s a veteran in the league with experience and poise. Though getting older and battling against fresh new talent coming up from the junior leagues, A.J., has many years of hockey in front of him. Wiser and stronger now, Jenks will be a key factor in Toledo’s success this season and perhaps the NHL in the future.