When the Jets stepped up to the podium to make their first selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, they selected Danish LW Nikolaj Ehlers. This kid can flat out play, and he honed his skills in the same place Nate MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin did. That is with the Halifax Mooseheads.
Kevin McCartney wrote an article looking at the Jets left wing depth chart, and to be blunt, it’s a sparse looking group beyond Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd. Mark Scheifele made the roster on opening night after his draft year, so does Ehlers have a shot?
There are many ways to slice his opportunity, and I believe it comes down to three major things. Has the organization played 18-year-olds before? Does the coach tend to name 18-year-olds to his roster? And most importantly, can this kid play in the NHL next season?
Even since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta, Kevin Cheveldayoff has been the team’s GM, and i’ve already mentioned that his drafting is the best thing he has going for him. Since returning to Winnipeg, the Jets’ first round picks have been Mark Scheifele (7th overall, 2011 draft), Jacob Trouba (9th overall, 2012 draft), Josh Morrisey (13th overall, 2013 draft) and now Ehlers (9th overall, 2014 draft).
Two of the names have made their NHL debuts and have a full NHL season under their belts. Scheifele played 7 games in the season following his draft year, scoring 1 goal before he was assigned back to the Barrie Colts. The following year was the NHL lockout, but he still managed to get into 4 games with the big club. Last season, Scheifele spent the entire season in Winnipeg, scoring a respectable 13-21-34 in 63 games for his rookie season.
Jacob Trouba played a season of college hockey for the University of Michigan following his draft year, and then became an NHL regular at age 19. While Trouba was prone to defensive breakdowns early on in the season, his rookie campaign can be seen as a real good one. How many rookie defensemen score 10 goals in their first season anyway?
Now, defensemen are brought along differently than forwards, so considering Scheifele got a taste of NHL experience early, that bodes well for Ehlers. Every Jets fan knows that Scheifele absolutely wowed the fans with his incredible pre-season performance and he was able to parlay that into an NHL job on opening night. If Ehlers can do the same, I don’t see why he won’t get the same shot.
PAUL MAURICE’S TENDENCIES
Paul Maurice has been coaching in the NHL on and off since he turned 28 years old. That’s still an incredible thing to think about. Since the NHL has changed since he first took the coaching job with the Hartford Whalers (yes, it’s been that long) in 1995, we’ll look at his tendencies beginning in 2006 when he took over for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs had drafted Czech youngster Jiri Tlusty with their first pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft and Maurice cut him, assigning him to the minors early on in camp. The youngest players to see significant time on the Leafs roster were 22-year-olds Alex Steen and Matt Stajan. Both players were beginning their sophomore seasons.
The following season, a 19-year-old Jiri Tlusty was once again cut by Maurice, but eventually made his debut in October of that season, and proceeded to play 58 games, scoring 10-6-16. Maurice was let go after missing the playoffs in each season.
The following season, Maurice was re-hired by the Carolina Hurricanes to replace the fired Peter Laviolette 25 game into the season. Maurice had 19-year-old Brandon Sutter on the roster, but limited him to fourth line minutes and Sutter only managed a single goal.
In his first full-season back behind the Hurricanes bench, Maurice played 19-year old Zach Boychuk in 31 games, after Boychuk began the previous season with the club immediately after his draft year.
The following season is a good comparable for Ehlers, and that player is none other than sniper Jeff Skinner. Skinner was drafted 7th overall by the Canes in 2010 after scoring an incredible 70 goals in 84 games combining playoffs and regular season for the Kitchener Rangers. Maurice liked the undersized winger enough to put him on the opening night roster and Skinner rewarded his confidence by scoring 31 goals en route to being named the Calder Trophy winner.
Maurice isn’t scared to play an 18-year-old in the big leagues, and it comes down to if the player is NHL-ready.
IS EHLERS NHL READY?
To determine a player’s readiness for the NHL is the most difficult thing for any writer to do. I was one of the guys who thought Skinner was too small to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old and he won the Calder.
Ehlers is measuring in at 5’11 and 163 lbs. That’s tiny. When Skinner was drafted, he measured in at 5’10 and 186 lbs. That doesn’t look good for Ehlers but it doesn’t mean he can’t manage.
For Ehlers to make the opening roster and stay, he’s going to have to produce points. According to BehindTheNet’s NHL equivalencies, Ehlers should be able to produce 29 points in the NHL this year. That’s not bad at all.
McCartney predicted that current 3rd line LW options for the Jets (Eric Tangradi and James Wright) would combine, yes combine for a measly 4 goals. Ehlers looks more like he could produce 16 himself.
SUM IT ALL UP
Nikolaj Ehlers is an amazing talent, and he has a real shot to be sporting the Jets beautiful jerseys when the club faces off against the Arizona Coyotes on October 9.
The real question is, do the Jets have the next Jeff Skinner or another Alexander Burmistrov?? Tell me what you think!