Electric Ehlers’ first hat trick sparks playoff hopes heading into all-star break

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Before the hats came raining down, before he skated out as the game’s first star, Nikolaj Ehlers had a bit of a confession to make.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2016 (2500 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Before the hats came raining down, before he skated out as the game’s first star, Nikolaj Ehlers had a bit of a confession to make.

It was during a chat after practice Monday, long after the media mob had vamoosed, when the Winnipeg Jets rookie gushed about the opportunity to play with two skilled forwards such as Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. And, it turns out, he also spoke openly about how he has had to fight through the grind of his first National Hockey League campaign.

“At the beginning of the season I think it went really well,” said Ehlers Monday. “But I’ve been saying that the league gets better and better and for you to stay on the team as well, you’ve got to get better and better as well. And I didn’t do that at the beginning. I stayed the same. I didn’t get better. I took that and tried to do what I could to play a good game every night. I’ve been doing that ever since and I feel it’s been helping me a lot.

John Woods / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers (27) celebrates his hat-trick against the Arizona Coyotes during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.

“You know,” Ehlers continued, “a guy doesn’t come to you and say ‘You’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do this or else you’re gone.’ It’s something you’ve got to learn in this league on your own. You’re going to learn in this league for 15 years, no matter if you are 35 years old or 19 like me.

“You’re going to learn every season that there’s always something new you can do. I realized that pretty quick and it’s already helped me a lot.”

Fast forward to about 30 hours later and there was the young Dane getting hugs and high-fives from his teammates after potting his first NHL hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Yes, he’s had a lot to learn in his first pro season. But, based on Tuesday’s results, it’s clear the teenager is a quick study.

“It’s awesome. It feels great,” said Ehlers, who now has 13 goals and 10 assists this season. “But you know what, I couldn’t have done it without the other guys. I appreciate it very much and we’re happy with the win tonight.”

Ehlers became the second teenager in Jets/Thrashers history to record a hat trick, joining Ilya Kovalchuk, who was the first to accomplish the feat back on Dec. 6, 2002. And his third goal was a beauty as he went bar-down — the shot then glancing off Louis Domingue’s leg into the net — to bring the MTS Centre to life.

“I was just happy. It was a great pass,” said Ehlers, who will spend his all-star break in Moncton with his girlfriend and hooking up with his old Halifax Mooseheads teammates. “It was a great play and I just shot it. I saw the other guys celebrating and I kind of just let go of everything (giving Blake Wheeler a hug). He had assists on all three goals and kinda shows that our line had great chemistry.”

As Ehlers stood in front of his locker afterwards posing with the team photographer while holding three pucks, both Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien raved about the young rookie.

“Well, he just stood at the other end and didn’t really do much in the D-zone,” said Byfuglien with a grin. “Kid scored three goals, there’s not much you can say about that, he’s good. He’s been good all year, he’s just finding his way. It’s not easy to make that step and come right into the NHL. I’m happy for him and hopefully he can keep it going for us.”

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers (27) celebrates his hat-trick against the Arizona Coyotes during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.
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