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Photo Credit: © Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

Pilot’s Logbook: Nikolaj Ehlers

The Winnipeg Jets’ 2016-2017 disappointing season finally ended. While the extent of disappointment may be subjective from individual-to-individual dependent on expectations, fans without a single franchise playoff win prefer their seasons to carry some post-season excitement.

So, what went wrong? What went well? How do the Jets measure up against their competition? Which areas actually require improvement relative to others?

If your car breaks down, you need to know what is wrong with it prior to dropping cash to fix it. With that in mind, we continue our in-depth investigation on the Jets’ performance breaking down the team player-by-player from worst-to-best according to statistical impact, with some adjustments made by my own, personal analysis.

Up next: Nikolaj Ehlers.

Basic Statistics

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPP SHG SHP GWG OTG S S%
82 25 39 64 +1 38 5 12 0 0 4 0 204 12.3

There was no sophomore slump for Nikolaj Ehlers. The speedy winger played 10 more games, scored 10 more goals and 16 more assists, and 37 more shots on net. Interestingly enough, Ehlers put up the same number of shots as rookie sensation Patrik Laine.

Goals Above Replacement

Goals Above Replacement data courtesy of @DTMAboutHeart. Reminder that GAR is an aggregate statistic, so it is not relative to games played or ice time.

Goals Above Replacement (GAR) combines multiple statistics in terms of one currency, allowing one to estimate a player’s overall impact. It is imperfect, as it combines many imperfect statistics, but it is also a severely useful tool.

There are some interesting comparisons to Ehlers and Laine. Laine already was the better contributor at even strength and at the power play. But, Ehlers ended up providing the Jets with more overall value due to one area…

Ehlers was the NHL’s third best forward at drawing penalties. Only Matthew Tkachuk and Connor Mcdavid produced more penalty drawing value, and Tkachuk had most of that value washed out with his penchant for taking penalties. There are those that complain about Ehlers, but it works and it matters. Ehlers penalty draws were worth about as much as any four other Jets combined, about 4.1 goals above replacement or one win in the standings on average.

The 21-year-old Dane is no weaklink offensively either, whether by even strength or power play.

Advanced Metrics

TOI CF% REL CF% G60 A60 P60
1154 49.9 +1.68 0.78 1.51 2.29

Ehlers saw his 5-on-5 point production paces rise above that of the average first line forward with a large leap from the previous season. The large leap was expected with last season Ehlers having a scoring drought due to being placed on a line with Chris Thorburn for an extended period of time, but also because Ehlers had a very high primary assist to secondary assist ratio.

In 2015-16 Ehlers only produced four secondary assists at 5v5, while he produced 12 in 2016-17. Even with this increase, Ehlers still has a much higher primary assist production, and with the randomness that is inherent within secondary assists we could see even more improvement next season.

In terms of shot differentials, Ehlers is no weak player in this area, but he has room to improve before he reaches Blake Wheeler or Mathieu Perreault levels. Basically Ehlers scored well, but not as well as Laine, while improving shot differentials well, but not as well as Wheeler or Perreault.

Microstatistics

Visual is for minutes played in 2015-16 and first half of 2016-17 combined.

The graphic suggests Ehlers does almost everything well at a top-six level of efficiency. He prefers to drive scoring through shot volume over quality, but is not a weak player in terms of shot quality from puck movement as seen above or in terms of shot location either. In terms of playmaking, Ehlers works a bit in the opposite direction. His pass volume is not week, but he has a preference to passing to players in shooting position over building up the play.

Zonal transition may be Ehlers strongest area of impact. The graph only shows 2015-16 and the first half of 2016-17. By the end of the season, Ehlers led the Jets in number of entries and entries with possession. He also had nearly caught up to Mark Scheifele for percentage of zone entries with possession of the puck, while also carrying a fairly high successful pass per zone entry afterward.

At the other end of the ice, Ehlers led the forwards in defensive zone touches, exits, possession exits, and percentage of exits being with possession.

Ehlers likes the puck on his stick and he likes to drive play forward, quickly and efficiently.

Please support Corey Sznajder (@ShutDownLine) for his contributions in manually tracking microstatistics. He has a Patreon page where you can make a donation for his tireless work supporting the community. Also, give Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp) a follow.

Final Thoughts

Ehlers is a phenomenal talent and extremely fun to watch. It’s pretty impressive that Ehlers someone as good as Ehlers is only the third best winger, and may only be the fourth best depending on Laine’s development, yet the team missed the playoffs.

The Jets top end of their forward roster is extremely strong. They have some interesting depth pieces, but the overall depth is not quite there. It’s why I would suggest the Jets looking at splitting the big three (Scheifele, Wheeler, and Perreault) onto separate lines. The team would run three scoring lines in a top-nine type system for the bulk of the game, but could sit the three weakest links when leading late and elevate the ice time of their defensive specialists like Adam Lowry, Marko Dano, and Joel Armia.

Ehlers skillset lends him to be fairly flexible in this type of roster set up. He produces points, pushes the play, and is one of the Jets’ best zone transitional forwards. Ehlers struggled with Laine and Little last season, but I believe that had more to do with the other two than Ehlers. Little should hopefully have a slight bounce back with health and Laine should fill in his areas of weakness as he develops.

So, if the Jets were to run a top-nine type system with three scoring lines, he could play with any of Wheeler, Scheifele, or Perreault and potentially produce strong results. The larger questions would be where best to place Laine, Little, and the other two forwards and also who should fill the other two forward spots.

All numbers courtesy of @NaturalStatTrick, @ShutdownLine, or @DTMAboutHeart unless otherwise noted. Please follow them all.


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