PHILADELPHIA — The Winnipeg Jets stayed true to their philosophy on drafting Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and director of amateur scouting Marcel Comeau love to go on about hockey sense, and they chose an 18-year-old who has it in spades in the first round of the NHL entry draft.
Nikolaj Ehlers, a left-winger from the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, is the newest player in the Jets’ fold after his 49-goal, 104-point season, his first in North America.
He’s from Aalborg, Denmark and he turned Cheveldayoff into a fan several times in the last few months.
"I found myself becoming more of a fan when I watched him play because anytime he got the puck, you felt like something’s going to happen here, there’s going to be a play, a play to the net," Cheveldayoff said. "He’s got dynamic speed. Really has quick hands and is not afraid to take it to the net."
The Jets’ interest was heightened by that kind of game, and at the scouting combine in Toronto in late May, Jets officials tracked Ehlers closely. They had the customary 20-minute interview — one of 85 prospects they talked to — and then watched him like a hawk from start to finish of the combine fitness testing.
Cheveldayoff said Friday he explored the opportunity to move higher in the first round, but couldn’t make it happen with the Florida Panthers in the No. 1 slot.
He then said as the picks began, he had some calls about moving down, but dismissed the idea.
"We had zero hesitation the moment Toronto (at No. 8) made their pick," he said.
Ehlers is listed at 5-11, 162 pounds. And he said it was a tired body he brought to the draft.
"I’m really tired because I didn’t really sleep last night," he said. "It’s hard to explain. I was shaking a little bit all day. And shaking here at the draft. I’m happy to finally sit here and be through with it, just enjoy the time here."
He was thrilled, as most youngsters are when they are high NHL picks.
"Feel really great," he said. "I’ve been thinking about this day since I was little. Sitting here now in this Jets jersey is... I can’t really describe it."
Ehlers is unlikely to be NHL-ready this fall — nobody talked about such an expectation on Friday night — but he’s got a good start toward an NHL future.
"Obviously I’ve got to get a little bit bigger and stronger but I think I can use my speed to get out of the rough time on the ice," Ehlers said. "But I’m not afraid to get hit or hit somebody. That’s a big thing I have to improve on but I think that’s going to be good."
He said he’s not a big NHL or Jets buff at this stage of the game.
"I know some of the players," he said. "But to be honest I didn’t follow the NHL much when I was younger simply because of the time difference from Europe.
"Before coming over, I watched maybe four or five NHL games.
"So I don’t know a lot about all the NHL teams, but I’m definitely going to learn something about the Jets now."
At the draft combine, he said something that should excite some fans in Jets Nation.
"I think I have a lot of skills and good hockey sense," he said then. "I can set up some good plays and I’m a goal scorer. I love scoring goals."
Cheveldayoff issued a sort of invitation Friday night, in that regard.
"I think come development camp (in two weeks), I think you’d be excited to come and watch him," the GM said.