Many players on the Winnipeg Jets will benefit from a new voice and fresh start, but Nikolaj Ehlers might be the biggest beneficiary. With the extended holiday break, Dave Lowry will have an extra week to prepare line combinations, implement new systems, and figure out how he wants to run his bench. It should give the entire organization a chance to regroup, as the Jets have lost 10 of their last 15 games. In this article, I’m going to explain how Dave Lowry can provide Ehlers with more opportunities, and how the Jets will benefit from relying on their star winger.
Ehlers Can Produce in Any Role
Ehlers has produced no matter where he slots into the lineup. In the two games since Maurice resigned, Ehlers was named the NHL’s third star of the week after recording six points (one goal and five assists) while playing on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Paul Stastny. That line has found instant chemistry and should be a great top line for Dave Lowry to lean on. In the four games they have played together, they have controlled 65.2 percent of shot attempts taken on the ice (Corsi%), and have outscored their opponents 3-0.
Since the start of the 2019-20 regular season, Ehlers ranks 18th in the NHL in points per 60 minutes with 2.53 points. In that timeframe, Ehlers is outproducing superstars such as Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, and Mikko Rantanen.
With an expanded role, Ehlers might be able to reach point totals to put him in the conversation of being a superstar right-winger. Outside of Winnipeg, Ehlers tends to fly under the radar when it comes to the topic of superstar wingers of the NHL, but the truth is, he just doesn’t get the same opportunities that others do.
Ehlers was already seeing career highs in playing time in the 2021-22 season prior to Maurice’s resignation. His average time on ice for his career is 16:38 per game, and his average so far this season is 18:42 per game. Blake Wheeler, Stastny, and Scheifele all missed time early in the season, the main reason why Ehlers’ minutes per game has gone up.
Ehlers Will Have to Shoulder Minutes With Injuries Mounting
Unfortunately for Dave Lowry and the Jets, the injuries are starting to pile up. The recent injuries to forwards David Gustafsson and Evgeny Svechnikov, along with Wheeler being placed on injured reserve, have put the forward lines in a blender. Dave Lowry will have to lean on Ehlers to be a consistent offensive contributor on Winnipeg’s top line. Dave Lowry stated that while Gustafsson may only be day-to-day, Svechnikov is expected to be out longer.
With Wheeler and Svechnikov expected to miss time, the right-wing position of Winnipeg’s forward group is growing thin. With these added minutes, Ehlers will play top line in the regular rotation and might have to play on the top power-play unit as well. He will have to be effective in these new roles if the Jets want to remain in the playoff hunt.
Ehlers Has the Opportunity to Build Trust With Dave Lowry
Dave Lowry can trust Ehlers to be effective as he learns how he wants his team to play. The Jets are a stacked team up front, so Lowry can set his lines and systems confidently with any combination of the top six. For him, it gives him the opportunity to show trust in a player that didn’t get it from his previous coach. Lowry showing Ehlers that he trusts him in big situations, and as a star player on the team, would be a big boost to his confidence, and a sigh of relief for Ehlers, who’s likely been wanting more opportunities over the past couple of years.
Until this season, Paul Maurice never gave Ehlers star-level usage. Ehlers regularly played on the second line, and almost never got a full chance to play with the first-line power play. The biggest head-scratcher was Maurice’s usage of Ehlers in overtime. He consistently played with the third or fourth group of forwards in overtime, which is odd because he is a dominant 3-on-3 overtime player. He has elite speed and puck handling but was never played as such. Dave Lowry talked about playing with more speed in his inaugural press conference.
“We want to continue to build the speed factor in the game and continue to find ways to play faster.”–Dave Lowry
Whether or not he will actually give Ehlers the minutes he deserves is yet to be seen, but if the Jets want to turn their season around and make the playoffs, they’ll have to give Ehlers every opportunity to carry them.
My name is Connor Hrabchak. I am 19 years old, and I am currently working towards completing my communications and media degree. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I have been a die-hard fan of the Winnipeg Jets ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, which has inspired me to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.