The 2018-19 season was not a great one for the Winnipeg Jets. Sure, they finished second in the Central Division with 99 points, but after what they accomplished in 2017-18, something just did not seem right this time around. In this series, we will take a look at some key Jets players who may or may not have been part of the problem in their up-and-down 2018-19 campaign.
Nikolaj Ehlers had his rockiest season as a Jet in 2018-19. He had a career-low 37 points and suffered his first major injury since joining the organization in 2015. He sat out for nearly two months with an upper-body injury (suspected shoulder issue). He was on the receiving end of an awkward hit on Jan. 4, 2019, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and would not return to the lineup until late-February. He scored a goal in his return against the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 22, 2019.
Ehlers had career lows in multiple categories – assists (16), power play goals (2), shots on net (158), hits (27), and average ice time (15:46) to name a few. With all due respect, some of these would be a lot higher if he had played a full 82-game season. The Jets have always done well to control the puck while he is on the ice – he has a career 52.7% Corsi for percentage (CF%) and was just under that mark for the 2018-19 season. The 23-year-old also has four career hat tricks, two of which came last season in November and December.
One major knock on Ehlers so far in his young career has been his lack of playoff production. In 21 career playoff games, he has zero goals and seven assists – he finished without any points in the team’s six games versus the St. Louis Blues in last season’s playoffs. The 2019 Playoffs also saw him average just 12:50 minutes of ice time per game with a minus-two rating.
On the bright side, he is due – should the Jets make the playoffs again this season and beyond. It is only a matter of time before we see the quick winger break out with a major playoff performance. He has way too much speed and skill to continue his lack of postseason production.
The 6-foot winger has been in the news a lot this offseason with links to trade talks between the Jets and a few other NHL clubs – the Buffalo Sabres being the most notable. The Jets seem to still be kicking the tires on adding another right-handed defenseman for the new season. Rasmus Ristolainen is apparently being shopped quite heavily by the Sabres and many believe the Jets could give up a top-six forward for his services if the Sabres add a little extra to sweeten the deal.
The Carolina Hurricanes were also in the mix on the Ehlers trade talk. The Jets were apparently trying to get one of the Hurricanes’ young right-handed defensemen, but the Hurricanes would not budge. Brett Pesce was rumored to be the piece the Jets wanted most in return. I can see why the Hurricanes would not budge – he has a very bright future in the NHL.
I personally think the Jets would be silly to trade away Ehlers. His production in the NHL so far has been outstanding and he is still very young and somewhat unproven. I think he has a lot more to offer and he will keep progressing into an elite talent over the next couple of seasons. The Jets need his speed and zone entry ability in the lineup to be a driver of the first or second line, depending on how head coach Paul Maurice juggles the line combinations.
Despite having a lot of career lows, Ehlers still produced fairly well during the time he did play. His points per game (PPG) were still decent at 0.60 PPG (his career-high is 0.78 in 2016-17) and he had a career-high shooting percentage at 13.3%. Injuries are unpredictable, but when you miss extended time as he did, it does affect how people will look upon your season, unfortunately.
If you mix that with his poor playoff performance, you suddenly realize it was not the best season for Ehlers and he has some things to work on for sure. He is another young offensively gifted talent who will need to work on the defensive side of his game to really round it out. I like the confidence he has with the puck on his stick, especially on zone entries; he gets fans on the edge of their seats when he takes pucks end-to-end, knifing between sticks and bodies.
An easy prediction would be to say Ehlers has a bounce-back season and I think that is exactly what he does. Injury or not, he has the ability to step his game up another notch and we could very well see that in 2019-20. The Dane will be within the Jets’ top-six forward group once again and will have all the opportunities in the world to rack up the points, let’s hope he can also strengthen his defensive play. For the record, I do not see the Jets moving him anytime soon.