The Winnipeg Jets’ 2020-21 season was full of ups and downs and ended with a second-round sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. In this series, we’ll take a look back on the season, player by player, and grade their individual performances with an eye toward their future with the team.
Coming off a 58-point 2019-20 campaign, Nikolaj Ehlers enjoyed a stupendous 2020-21 season and put the entire NHL on notice that his time has come.
Dynamic Dane Was Dominant
Seven games into the season, Sportlogiq took at look at his blistering start, and in an article opined that “when you combine Ehlers’ world-class talent with his carefully-crafted deployment, he’s got a shot at becoming one of the most productive players in recent memory.”
Ehlers, in his sixth NHL season, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he’s an elite offensive talent and he did just what Sportlogiq predicted: produce. He finished third on the team with 46 points (21 goals and 25 assists) in the regular season and two goals and one assist in the playoffs. He was the strongest Jets’ forward at even-strength, posting a team-high plus-15 rating.
Terrorizing opponents with his blazing speed and creativity was Ehlers’ modus operandi. He could be counted on to make something happen on a nightly basis and had 13 multi-point nights.
His greater willingness to shoot the puck also served him well (he took an average of 3.14 shots per game, up from 2.85 last season). In the past, especially when playing with Patrik Laine, Ehlers gave up good scoring chances in favour of passes.
Ehlers’ Injury Illuminated His Importance
Unfortunately for Ehlers, an upper-body injury that forced him to sit out final nine games of the regular season killed his chances at capturing his first point-per-game season (he played 47 games, one more game than his point total.)
Only when Ehlers was injured was his impact on the lineup truly seen, as his ability to both set teammates up and bury his own chances was sorely missed. Without him in the top six down the stretch, the Jets went just 3-6 as the players who needed to step up in his stead largely didn’t.
Thankfully, Ehlers’ absence didn’t prevent the Jets from making the playoffs. Despite their poor play without him, they had enough of a cushion to finish third in the North Division.
Ehlers Reached New Heights in Season Filled With Memorable Moments
The electric Ehlers provided Jets fans with plenty to cheer about from home throughout the season. Some performances that stand out are his four-point night in a 6-4 barn burner victory against the Edmonton Oilers in late January and his overtime winner against the Montreal Canadiens on St. Patrick’s Day.
But no game was more memorable than his two-goal performance upon his return to the lineup for Game 3 of the Jets’ first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers. Ehlers sniped the overtime winner, a tally that completed a massive comeback as the Jets were down 4-1 in the third period before roaring back.
At the Jets’ end-of-season media availability, Ehlers revealed he battled through a posterior labrum tear in his shoulder for most of the season and a first-rib cartilage fracture, making his performance even more impressive.
Next season, Ehlers should be given even more opportunities, including time on the top power play unit and more ice-time in general (his ATOI, at 16:55, was only sixth among Jets’ forwards.) He undoubtedly deserves it.
Count on Ehlers to produce at a similar clip in 2021-22 and continue to be a steal at $6 million per year.
Final Grade: A+
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Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.