Nikolaj Ehlers could be a fourth liner

Photo credit:© James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
By Goose
1 month ago
After their 3-0 victory over the Washington Capitals, the Winnipeg Jets are appearing as one of the deepest teams in the Western Conference. We still haven’t seen the fully healthy Jets, with Gabriel Vilardi still out dealing with an upper-body injury; he has been sidelined since being injured in the second period on February 29th against the Dallas Stars.
Jets head coach Rick Bowness told the media, “We don’t know when Vilardi will skate again… it could be as early as Tuesday, it could be a few more days.”
Thanks, Rick, for providing us with a timeline. But when Vilardi returns, where will he slot into the lineup? I think we can agree on a couple of things. First, Cole Perfetti will be taken out of the lineup once Vilardi returns, and secondly you do not mess with the Jets’ third line. In my humble opinion, I also wouldn’t touch the current second line for at least two weeks; they were locked in with their chemistry.
So that leaves two right-wing slots open: one on the top line and one on the fourth line. Where do you put either Vilardi or Ehlers in this case?
Connor – Scheifele-???
Iafallo – Monahan – Tofolli
Niederreiter – Lowry – Appleton
Barron – Namestnikov –???
Vilardi- Ehlers
With the Connor-Scheifele-Vilardi line, they have an expected goals for of 10.3 but have scored 15 goals in 166 minutes of ice time over just 15 games. Then you look at their expected goals for percentage, and it’s respectable at 58.2%.
What happens when you leave Ehlers on and take Vilardi out of the top line? They have only scored goals together in 137 minutes played over 27 games, with an expected goals for of 7.4. The Connor – Scheifele- Ehlers line has an expected goals for percentage of 58.3%.
On paper, these lines will produce the same for the Jets. It just looks different in how you get those goals. The real question then is how much production can you get out of the fourth line?
Looking at the Jets’ lines, you know they’re deep, so deep that Cole Perfetti is your 13th forward. In my heart of hearts, when Vilardi returns from injury, he will start on the fourth line for a period, and then the moment Ehlers has an off shift, we will see the two men swap spots.
Some of it is fair. Ehlers is playing on his off-wing, so he has to work that much harder than Vilardi to be successful. It has been rumored (SO TAKE IT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT) that Scheifele prefers Vilardi on his wing as he is a little more predictable than Ehlers.
On the other hand, Ehlers has been a little more durable than Vilardi this season; there could be a case to leave Ehlers on that line. As well, Ehlers adds speed wherever he is in the lineup and might even give you a surprise fight.
Ultimately, the Jets are probably best off leaving Vilardi on the top line when he is back, and Ehlers is probably sent to the fourth line.
This isn’t a punishment for Ehlers. He will be getting used properly because the Jets are extensively running three different second lines. We will also see Barron get better playing alongside Ehlers and Namestnikov as well. These lines should all be playing pretty evenly up until the final minutes, unless the Jets are down by a goal, and then the top line needs to go out there and score.
Going into the first game of the playoffs and if everyone is healthy, this is what I expect the forward group to look like.
Connor – Scheifele- Viladri
Iafallo – Monohan – Tofolli
Niederreiter – Lowry – Appleton
Barron – Namestnikov –Ehlers

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