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Photo Credit: © Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Reminder: Nikolaj Ehlers Is A Good Hockey Player

Winnipeg’s recent win against Vegas was an important one. The Jets have been struggling over the past few weeks as the entire team was playing sub-par. Laine wasn’t scoring, Hellebuyck was shaky and the entire team couldn’t get the puck out of their own end without turning it over.

It was getting really bad… until Ehlers showed up and fixed everything.

Am I over-exaggerating? Of course, but Ehlers is still tremendously valuable to the team on the ice.

Let’s look at some of the team stats this season. As you can see below, the Jets haven’t fared well this season in the xGoals department. There was a time where they briefly made it to the positive side of things before they fell right back down. It wasn’t too bad as they were within a goal or two near the end of December until two major injuries occurred. Both Byfuglien and Ehlers went down within a week and things took a turn for the worse.

(courtesy of moneypuck.com)

When looking at the chart (and my sick photoshop skills) you can see that there was a very clear and distinct drop-off after Buff and Ehlers were hurt. Is that a coincidence? No, definitely not. Byfuglien and Ehlers are hugely important to the team.

When looking specifically at Ehlers, he leads the Jets in a lot of meaningful categories. According to moneypuck.com, Ehlers leads the entire Jets squad with an on-ice xGoals% of 53.3%. For the non-advanced stats people out there, this means that when Ehlers is on the ice, the Jets are expected to score 53.3% of the total goals. Naturalstattrick.com breaks down scoring chances as well and Ehlers leads the team with a SCF% of 54.3%. This means Ehlers is able to get more dangerous opportunities than the opponents when he’s on the ice. When looking at his team leading CF% at 54.17%, we see the same thing. So when the Jets have Ehlers on the ice, they are: generating more shot attempts and more scoring chances than the opposition which leads to the expectation that the Jets will outscore the opposition.

This is all fine in theory, but the actual goal totals work out as well. When Ehlers is on the ice, the team has scored 28 goals and allowed 19 goals which equals a goals for % of 59.57%. While this is slightly higher than the underlying numbers suggest he should have, Ehlers’ elite talent makes up some of the difference. The rest is likely puck luck because hockey is full of fun and crazy bounces.

We now know that Ehlers helps the Jets control the play arguably better than any other forward that they have. The eye test sees this as well as Ehlers traditionally tilts the ice towards the opponent with his blazing speed and great hands.

One of the teams biggest struggles is trying to get out of the defensive end, but Ehlers helps in this regard as well. He’s evasive and can use his speed to gain the neutral zone with possession.

In fact, as per Corey Sznajder, Ehlers has the second most zone exits with possession of the puck per 60 minutes among all Jets forwards. He trails only Scheifele, but as you can see, Ehlers has fewer failed attempts which makes Ehlers likely the safest and most efficient forward at getting the puck out of the Jets end.

Ehlers is a great hockey player, but perhaps the biggest threat of Ehlers is the way he can get Laine going. I’m not saying that Ehlers is 100% responsible for Laine ending his scoring drought, but the facts are facts. Ehlers came back, Laine scored. Take that however you want.

In all seriousness, the Jets sorely missed Ehlers in the lineup for the past month. He’s been exceptional at controlling the play at even strength and will look to get the entire team back on track as they head towards the playoffs.