Today’s Pilot’s Logbook examines the past year of Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers played in all 82 games for the second straight season and showed excellent progression throughout his play. While there are still some aspects that Ehlers can work on, he’s taken a step forward after signing a big contract extension last October.
#27 – LEFT WING
6’0″ / 172 lbs / Age: 22
Current Contract Status: Signed through 2024-25 ($6,000,000/yr)
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PLAYER’S SEASON IN REVIEW
The Winnipeg Jets signed Ehlers to a huge seven year deal worth $42 million right before the start of the season. The thought from Cheveldayoff was that Ehlers was going to put up even more points and would most likely cost more if waiting one more year before signing an extension. This move paid off for the Jets as Ehlers set a new career high in goals and scored over 60 points for the second straight season.
Ehlers had a strong start to the season as he scored a hat-trick in the third game of the year and had five goals in the first five games. He also started the season with Scheifele and Wheeler before quickly moving to the second line where he settled in beside Little and Laine who became his most frequent linemates for the rest of the year.
Ehlers and Laine were a natural fit together as they are not only great friends outside the locker room but have complementary styles on the ice.
Patrik Laine said he has already told Nikolaj Ehlers that with the new contract Ehlers can pay for their room service bills from now on.
— Sara Orlesky (@saraorlesky) October 4, 2017
Ehlers’ style of play could be described as flashy. His main asset is his speed and he uses it abundantly to break through the neutral zone and create quick offensive zone entries. This pairs well with Laine because Ehlers is able to draw the defense towards him off the rush while Laine is able to find an open lane towards the net.
The idea of having two of the youngest and most talented Jets on the same line is intriguing, but it might not necessarily be the best move. When Scheifele got hurt in the middle of the season, the lines shifted around which meant Ehlers played with Perreault and Little. This line had eye-popping numbers during their time together including a CF% of 62.38, a GF% of 62.88 and an xGF% of 63.39 during 5 on 5 play. The following illustration shows just how good Perreault and Ehlers were during their time together. (Perreault with Ehlers is the one in the very top right corner)
While Ehlers set a new career high in goals, his point total went down due to a lack of assists. This is a bit surprising because he played with Laine for so much of the season and looked comfortable alongside him. One explanation for the lack of assists is the other linemate he was playing with for most of the season. Two seasons ago Ehlers spent most of his time with Scheifele and Laine, and second most time with Scheifele and Wheeler. Having Scheifele as the centre two seasons ago definitely helped inflate Ehlers’ numbers compared this past year when Ehlers played mostly with Little.
Ehlers is becoming known for his end to end rushes which get the crowd on their feet, but there are too many times where Ehlers turns the puck over or makes a poor offensive decision. The offensive zone play should be worked on as Ehlers thrives off the rush because he can skate around the defensemen but doesn’t know how to beat them without his speed and often turns the puck over with little resistance.
The defensive side to his game has gotten much better over the last three seasons and shouldn’t be an issue moving forward. Ehlers also has no trouble getting the puck out of his own end and frequently creates excellent breakout plays.
The playoffs were not kind to Ehlers. After scoring 29 goals in the regular season, roughly one every three games, one would expect Ehlers to score around five or six goals during the playoffs. Instead Ehlers ended up with zero goals even though he kept his assist rate fairly constant from the regular season. There may have been two factors that led to the lack of goals. The first one is the lack of shooting. Ehlers only had 1.73 shots per game in the playoffs while he had 2.82 shots per game in the regular season. The second factor that still has an unknown impact is the dreaded malaise.
It’s never a good sign when a player misses practices and morning skates during the playoffs. Teams are even more tight-lipped about injuries and sometimes the truth never ends up coming out. In this case, while everybody was worried about Ehlers, it was Paul Maurice who was able to get everybody laughing. As for Ehlers, he had no idea what the word meant (along with majority of people whose primary language is English) but played along to everyone’s enjoyment.
— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) April 22, 2018
How much did the malaise hinder Ehlers during the playoffs? That is the question that may never get answered. The one thing we do know is that Ehlers was not his usual self for most of the playoff run.
The future is extremely bright for Ehlers along with the Jets. Ehlers is signed for another seven years at only $6 million per year. For a player as electrifying as Ehlers, this contract could definitely be a huge bargain down the road.
As for the play on the ice, Ehlers needs to become a better all around offensive player. He is great off the rush, but he needs to improve his decision making in the offensive zone. His shot is not too bad but it could be worked on as well, especially if the Jets continue to run the second power play unit through Ehlers.
Ehlers’ defensive play is coming along nicely and he is able to get the puck out of the zone consistently and easily. All things considered, Ehlers is going to be a valuable contributor for years to come and will continue to get better as he develops into a stronger, all-around hockey player.