The Winnipeg Jets have constantly been the underdog since the celebrated return of the team from Atlanta. The recently renewed Jets have been giving the older, more established teams in the league a run for their money – and this season has been no different. However, for the past few weeks they have been out key players due to various injuries. Lineup stalwarts Bryan Little, Dmitry Kulikov, and Mark Letestu are only some of the missing players from the lineup, and with Dustin Byfuglien still out indefinitely, there is a huge gap on the roster that needs to be filled.
Because of the absence of these key contributors, healthy and consistent players like Nikolaj Ehlers are having to pick up the pace and keep the Jets in the running for a playoff spot.
Ehlers Propelling Jets Closer to Playoffs
In addition to filling the holes on defense due to injuries, head coach Paul Maurice has had to rely on his forward lines to maintain the pressure on the ice and keep it out of their zone. Ehlers is one of the players to be credited with the continuous energy coming from the Jets bench. “This guy’s going to score, I don’t know, 20 to 40 goals over the course of his year, I think really consistently for us… and in order to do that, you’ve got to put in the time and I think he did,” Maurice said in an interview in late September about the young player’s improvement the ice.
Since starting his NHL career, Ehlers has averaged 50 points and 23 goals per season, and 16 minutes of ice time per game, entering 2019-20. Prior to the 2017-18 season, the Jets offered Ehlers a seven-year, $42-million contract extension, showing the True North’s faith in him and his ability to bring the Jets to the top. With an impressive 24 points and 89 shots on goal in 31 games this season, ‘The Dane’ is living up to the expectations. He has not been shy to use his strong puck-handling skills, constant forward aggression, and passing accuracy to bring some much-needed regularity to the team. It’s resulted in him having at least one point in 17 of his 31 games.
While the Jets have been constrained to their own zone the past few games, Ehlers has made sure the opponents’ defense cops do not get too complacent. Earlier this month, against the Dallas Stars, Ehlers and Blake Wheeler seemingly thrived upon their on-ice chemistry as the temporary second line battled for every goal they got. Even though the win is not always secured, the Jets can find comfort that Ehlers will always bring an air of confidence and consistency to the game.
A Solid Season So Far
The 23-year-old strives to improve every game and shows no signs of slowing down. Ehlers has twice amassed the 25-goal, 60-point threshold since joining the Jets as a rookie in 2015-16, proving himself to be a much greater asset to the team than most originally thought. His performance on the ice the last few games has shown his ability to bring consistency and reliability into the Jets’ play.
Now in his fifth season playing for the Jets, one thing that has to be noted is his growth from last season. “You got two really young players that are still defining their game and learning the Winnipeg Jets game, as well as the opponents’, so there’s more inconsistency there.” Maurice said in a 2018 interview about the Little-Ehlers-Patrik Laine line. (from ‘Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Little, Laine and Ehlers,’ National Post, 10/18/2018)
Ehlers has seemingly taken that to heart, and his recent success with the Jets shows his passion for the game. With a newfound confidence in his powerful backhand shot, he is finding the back of the net more consistently than his more credited linemates, Laine and Wheeler. Ehlers is frequently showing up with assists, rebounds, breakaways, plus a strong presence and energy on the ice, leading the Jets to victory even when defeat seems imminent.