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Deserving of more ice time and recognition: Nikolaj Ehlers Jets Nation year in review

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Connor Baldwin
1 month ago
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Good afternoon, Jets Nation! How have you been feeling watching the 2nd round of the NHL playoffs without the Winnipeg Jets? I hope I can make you forget about it, because it’s time for another Jets Nation year in review! Earlier today I went over the Jets Vezina-nominated starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck, and now I’ll be taking a look at the Jets Danish top 6 forward, Nikolaj Ehlers.
As you can see in the title, one of the main things that I’ll be discussing about Ehlers following the 2023-24 season is that he deserves more ice time and more recognition or appreciation around the league. Before that, I have to start with Ehlers’ numbers from this season. The 28-year old from Aalborg, Denmark, a former 1st round, 9th overall pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft, had himself one of the his best overall seasons in his career.
After several seasons where Ehlers dealt with some injuries, including last season where he only played 45 games, Ehlers stayed healthy this season and played all 82 games. Ehlers scored 25 goals, just 4 shy of his career high of 29 goals in 2017-18. Ehlers had 36 assists, which is 2nd best to his 39 assists in 2016-17. Overall, his 61 points was 2nd best in his career, just 3 short of his career-best 64 points in the 2016-17 season. The top 6 was where Ehlers spent this season, as usual, and he split time on the wing between either the 1st line with Mark Scheifele or on the 2nd line with Sean Monahan.
The playoffs, much like most of Ehlers’ Jets teammates, did not go all too well. In the 5 game 1st round series loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Ehlers only managed 2 assists. This was Ehlers’ 6th playoffs in his career and so far he has not proven himself to be a playoff performer. It’s tough to understand why his solid regular season play has never translated to the playoffs. Ehlers does get his chances, averaging around 2-3 shots per game, but for some reason he just hasn’t been able to put all the pieces together to get some scoring in the playoffs.
The main thing to point out about Ehlers after his successful 2023-24 season is that he’s still overall considered one of the most underrated NHL players. I know I’ve said the word underrated before a few times with a few other Jets players, but I think out of the them all Ehlers is the most underrated. The problem is, the Jets just haven’t seemed to give Ehlers enough ice time or opportunities to prove himself on a nightly basis. A stat that goes pretty unnoticed about Ehlers is that out of all the players in the NHL that played at least 600 minutes, Ehlers was 6th in 5-on-5 goal differential percentage at 65.26%.
What then is the issue with Ehlers that only allows him to play around 16 minutes a night despite playing on the top 6? Could it be his lack of size that may be connected to his prior injury troubles? Skill certainly isn’t the issue, because Ehlers can both create and finish plays with whoever he is paired with on a line. Ehlers usually plays on the 1st powerplay unit, but he finished the season with 54 of his 61 points on even-strength, good enough for 27th best in the NHL. What could be the uncertainty or lack of recognition be with Ehlers then?
All these questions and conflicting views on Ehlers contribute to him being one of the big question marks for the Jets in the off-season. I’ve talked before how the Jets will have a lot of decisions to make this off-season, but what they do with Ehlers could very well be at the top of the list. The 2024-25 season will be the final year of Ehlers’ current 7 year, 42 million dollar deal. At age 29, Ehlers will become an unrestricted free agent if the Jets don’t find a way to extend or trade him before the end of next season.
Like other teams, there becomes a balancing act with the salary cap where tough decisions need to be made for which players are kept and which ones are dealt or let go. Ehlers currently carries a cap hit of $6 million per year but will almost currently be getting a sizeable raise on his next contract. His name has been brought up as a potential big trade chip, but he does have a 10-team no-trade list which makes that possibility a little more difficult. The Jets will want to sign Ehlers to a long-term extension in Winnipeg, but if they can’t get that done they should try to maximize a trade return.
The Jets will likely prioritize making a decision on their current unrestricted free agents, but the 1st decision after that will likely be what to do with Nikolaj Ehlers. Being the final year in his contract and coming off a healthy season, I fully suspect Ehlers to build on this season and achieve another 60+ point season. Ehlers is a staple top 6 player on this Jets team, but before the tough decisions are made, look out for Ehlers to help the Jets win some hockey games in the 2024-25 season.

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