Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Danish dynamo

Jets' first pick Ehlers has skills — and a sense of humour to match

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Disrupted travel plans and some serious jet lag couldn't put a dent in Nikolaj Ehlers' sense of humour on the first day of the Winnipeg Jets' annual summer development camp.

The 18-year-old dynamo from the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads, the Jets' 2014 first-round draft pick just 10 days ago, was on the MTS Iceplex ice with 36 other draft picks, prospects and invitees.

Since being picked in Philadelphia, Ehlers has been home to Aalborg, Denmark -- the country's fourth-biggest city at some 130,000 residents -- for four days, then ran into cancelled flights that left him overnighting in Copenhagen and scrambling to get here late Sunday.

"It's nice to get up early," he laughed. "I feel good. I'm happy to be here now. I'm just going to enjoy this week and see what happens."

Asked what areas of improvement he'll be focusing on this summer, you have to love his unique perspective.

"I want to put on some pounds, eat a lot and all that," said the left-winger who's listed at 5-11, 163 pounds. "I guess that's probably the biggest thing I have to get better at. It's hard to eat so much that you want to throw up after. I'm trying. I'm going to try to get up (in weight) and be ready."

Whatever his current size, Ehlers is all business on a pair of skates.

The fleet forward, who didn't have a whole lot of opportunity flash his stuff at what was mostly an orientation skate on Monday, had 49 goals and 104 points for the Mooseheads during the 2013-14 regular-season, and 28 more points in 16 playoff games.

"I don't think that I have to impress anyone," he said. "I think I'm going to go out and play my game. That's what I did all year. That's why I'm here now. So I'm just going to keep on doing that."

There were plenty of eager eyes on Monday as fans filled the Iceplex spectator areas to get a look at the Jets' prospects.

"When I practise at home, there's nobody there," Ehlers said. "Now coming out here and seeing all these people, it's pretty amazing."

At home, hockey is a secondary sport. Ehlers, though, said he's blessed with an enthusiastic support group of family and friends.

"I know that all my friends and family were watching and following me," he said about the NHL draft. "Hockey in Denmark is not that big anymore, but I think it's getting bigger again. Obviously it's nice to have some players out of Denmark who are getting drafted into the NHL."

On his first visit to Winnipeg, Ehlers said he's strictly in learning mode, but hopes to experience some of the city.

"Hopefully we're going out and having some fun with the guys, go out to eat somewhere. We'll see what happens," he said.

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2014 C1

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Updated on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 1:17 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Aalborg

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