If you have listened to me on radio, twitter or on this site you know that I have been raving this season about the play of sophomore winger Nikolaj Ehlers. His deadly combination of vision and speed on the ice has seen him rise into a tie for second in assists (17) with Ryan Getzlaf, Tyler Seguin and Duncan Keith in the NHL. Of course, as we saw last night, they all trail that wizard known as Connor McDavid (23). While he has fairly elite linemates that is pretty lofty company to be in for the second year pro.
His goal scoring pace is actually similar to the same number he put up in the first 26 games of his rookie season last year and it is in the points for passing where he has seen an increase by 10 this season over last. He is now tied with his linemate Patrik Laine and six other players for 14th overall in NHL scoring.
His advanced stats check out as he has shown a remarkable consistency this season. while avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump. In fact he sits second behind Blake Wheeler (among players who have played 20+ games for Winnipeg) in quite a few categories (corsi, fenwick, etc).
So what does Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice think of his sophomore winger? He was recently asked about the Dynamic Dane. Here are the questions and his answers:
What type of offensive driver is he?
Coach Maurice: “Big part of it. Part of his growth now is I think he understands that this year. You come in the first year and you’re just playing and there are usually a couple of veteran guys who are teaching you. When he skates the way he’s capable of skating he affects what happens on the line now with Mark and Patty. He pulls people off, buys them more time. Mark’s goal (vs. Devils) really starts because Nik Ehlers from behind their net comes back out hard into the slot and knocks the puck down and keeps it in the zone. That’s usually a sign of maturity when an offensive knows how he plays defensively can get him something, but that you have to play on both sides of the puck, and we think he’s made good progress with that.”
Does the league know how good he is?
Coach Maurice: “We certainly appreciate it. I also think Nik has quite a bit more upside to what he’s doing. He’s in a bit of cold spell even though he’s putting numbers up, he’s had a bunch of chances in alone on the tender. His speed, they do. You can tell by the way the teams match against you, which D pairings they put against that line, they are very aware of his quickness.”
On Nikolaj Ehlers seeing himself as a goal scorer yet ability to facilitate.
Coach Maurice: “When you watched Nik Ehlers video of his junior year he was scoring goals in the playoffs and it was outstanding and his passes were just as good…..What Niky is doing well now is realizing that he has a couple of other guys on his line whether it was Blake Wheeler or Patty that he can move the puck to which will, I won’t say get him more chances, he’s had a whole lot of chances to put the puck in the back of the net. It’s not going for him and that happens to every player. So when that happens you want to make sure you’re still helping the team win and produce, so he’s getting the assists, which is really important…..he’s doing more with a lack of goal scoring.”
On Nikolaj Ehlers in a “goal scoring slump”:
Coach Maurice: “That’s the way you want your slumps to look. If you’re not scoring the way you think you should, and we’re fine with that, we hope they all can score 50, what else will you do? This year his play has gotten better. I thought it started slow the first four or five games of the season and his speed is back…..he’s playing big minute now. He came at 13, 14 minutes last year and he’s off that now. He’s playing NHL minutes and I really believe he’s going to keep getting better and better this season.”