Why Nikolaj Ehlers looks to be for real and has legit shot at the Calder

The Winnipeg Jets’ rookie winger Nikolaj Ehlers has been opening quite a few eyes with his impressive play. With three goals and three assists already, Ehlers has been a major driver of the Jets offense early in the season.

He has yet to earn much talk for the Calder though, but this could very well change if things are to persist.

Let’s show why…

One of the major factors in the Calder award is scoring. As it currently stands, Ehlers sits at at 7th in rookie scoring:


Numbers and rankings courtesy of NHL.com

Unlike many of his rookie compatriots, Ehlers has been scoring like this with a pretty normal shooting percentage.

This is a positive sign that Ehlers’ current goal scoring pace is somewhat sustainable given his shot selection and could very well be around his true-talent level.

We can take a look even more in-depth to the underlying numbers to see how Ehlers is driving offense relative to his peers.


Visual courtesy of WAR-on-ice.com.

The x-axis on the graph shows the number of 5v5 scoring chances each rookie has generated this season thus far. Currently Ehlers has generated more than any of his peers, despite playing less icetime than a few.

The y-axis shows the number of scoring chances per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time with the player on the ice, while the colour displays the player’s 5v5 scoring chance differential.

While Ehlers may not have received as much ice time per game as some of his peers, he has still been situated in role where he can excel. The Jets have placed Ehlers on the wing with the young and talented Mark Scheifele and the fancystats superstar extraordinaire Mathieu Perreault. The three players have developed chemistry together and have formed one of the most exceptionally gifted offensive lines in the NHL.

While linemates such as Perreault and Scheifele contribute to a beneficial environment, Ehlers has not been a passenger on his line and has been generating a ton of the Jets shot volume volume:


Numbers courtesy of WAR-on-ice.com.

Now while offense is the driving factor for the Calder award, it is not the only aspect that makes up a player.

Scoring helps a team, but only so much. In the end, it does not matter how much a team scores, but rather how effectively they outscores their opposition.


Visual courtesy of WAR-on-ice.com.

The visual above shows just two of the multiple variables that impact a player’s results outside of their own skill and work. Within these two variables, the players drawing the tougher assignments sit in the top left corner, while the easier assignments sit in the bottom right corner.

The colour of the circles indicate how much control of shot attempts a team carries with the player on the ice versus on the bench. We can see here Ehlers has one of the largest positive impacts on his team, despite playing against top lines and defenders more often than some of his peers and receiving less of an offensive zone push with zone starts. 

It’s still early. Many of these young forwards are still learning how to play at the NHL level, and many will have their own ups and downs throughout the year.

However, the Jets have a budding star in Nikolaj Ehlers and a legit reason to be excited for the future.