Sophomore Sensation: Nikolaj Ehlers Having Breakout Year

Though the “sophomore slump” plagues many second-year players in the NHL, the opposite can be said for Winnipeg Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers.

The 20-year-old had an impressive rookie debut last season, posting 15 goals and 38 points in 72 games. This time around, he looks even stronger. In 21 games played this season, Ehlers has 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) and is proving to be one of the Jets’ top forwards this season.

Making Contributions

The Danish forward is an incredible asset on Winnipeg’s top line. He can do amazing things with the puck, and has great speed and the ability to make his teammates better. This is evident not only in his play, but his stats.

Ehlers produces 2.86 points per 60 minutes of play, and has 2.22 assists per 60. When on the ice, Ehlers can make plays on the fly, and, when given any kind of space, knows how to make the perfect pass or finish the play by himself.

The majority of his points come from his helpers, and the best part is 85 percent of his assists have come at even strength. This means that he thrives playing the game 5-on-5, and doesn’t need power-plays to generate offense. For a Winnipeg team that struggles on the power-play, having fire power at even strength is something that will help them score.

Winnipeg may have below average special teams numbers, but they manage to score at least 2.7 goals per game, which is the 11th-best number in the league. Ehlers is a huge part of this, due to his presence on the first line and his ability to get pucks to the net.

Puck Possession

Another strong attribute to Ehler’s play is his excellent puck possession metrics. He takes great care of the puck and protects it, and also plays a careful game up the ice. His relative Corsi sits at 7.6, and his relative Fenwick (Corsi, without taking into account shot blocks) sits at 8. Overall, the Jets control the tempo of the game when he is on the ice, and are likely in the offensive zone.

Like we mentioned earlier, Ehlers is a player that makes those around him better. The proof is not only seen on the ice, but on paper. Here are just some of his teammates’ metrics, with and without him.

We’re looking mainly at possession metrics, but just as a bonus, let’s also see how many goals these players produce along with Ehlers on the ice.

Rel. Corsi (With Ehlers) Rel. Corsi (W/O Ehlers) Goals For/60 (With Ehlers)
Mark Scheifele 4.32 1.14 3.00
Blake Wheeler 8.34 4.91 3.21
Chris Thorburn -0.96 -8.49 2.11

As evident by the stats, Ehlers greatly helps relative Corsi when on the ice, even with linemates Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who are more than capable of carrying themselves. They also produce more goals for, and create more opportunities with him.

Looking at his play with a player like Chris Thorburn is intriguing. Even though playing with Thorburn brings Ehlers down, he manages to bring the relative Corsi up to a not-so-severe statistic. However, without Ehlers, Thorburn’s Corsi drastically decreases, and he suffers greatly without him.

Simply seeing these numbers shows how vital Ehlers’ presence is on the ice, and how strong he is when it comes to puck possession and serving as an offensive catalyst. In addition, he can back check well and plays a strong 200-foot game.

Bottom Line

Ehlers is an incredible player who is only just getting started. He is generating plenty of offense, and has points in three of his last five games. The Danish-born forward is only 20 years old, and will continue to make strides. 

The only areas he has to improve in are increasing his physicality, and filling out the rest of his 6-foot frame. That way, he can become a great all-around NHL forward. 

  • Joelimus

    Easily my favourite Jet to watch night in, night out. Always doing something dynamic with the puck. Unselfish, throws the puck around, often in imaginative ways and great at fooling opposition players. If he keeps it up, he could progress into a Datsyuk/Kane type of player.

  • FishWhiskey

    So good to see Ehlers getting the credit he so richly deserves. 100% compete level every night, up’s the game of all of his line mates and leads by example. A hockey players hockey player!