Ehlers eager to return to Jets lineup ‘I’m ready to play, I want to play,’ says speedy Dane following six-week injury layoff
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/03/2022 (386 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For a team looking to build an identity around speed, the Winnipeg Jets are about to get a big boost.
All signs point to winger Nikolaj Ehlers making a return to the lineup after missing the last six weeks from a knee injury suffered in a 4-3 overtime road loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 18. Ehlers was back on the ice for his first full practice Thursday, shedding the yellow non-contact jersey he donned earlier this week.
“Now it’s a coach’s decision,” Ehlers said after the workout. “I told him I’m ready to go and I talked to the medical staff about it as well. We kind of had a plan in the last week to aim for the next game, and I feel ready for that.” Ehlers looked like his old self earlier this week, showing off his elite speed during the Jets’ optional practice Monday. On Thursday, he was skating the left wing on a line with centre Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. Copp just returned from injury — a concussion — Monday, when he chipped in with the game-winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens.
Interim head coach Dave Lowry, not known to divulge lineup information, strongly hinted at Ehlers playing against the Stars. The Jets also had to make room for Ehlers on the 23-man roster by placing forward Austin Poganski on waivers Thursday afternoon.
“Look where he was today, that would probably answer your question,” Dave Lowry said, all but confirming the plan for Ehlers to play. “That’s a real good starting place for him. He’s with two responsible players; he gives them speed. I look at the other two (top) lines, they seem to have some good chemistry right now.”
The Jets could certainly use the 26-year-old Dane, who is likely to get eased into play while on the team’s third line. Ehlers, who has 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points in 34 games, should be able to take advantage of a less-challenging defensive matchup. The top-two lines will remain, with Pierre-Luc Dubois centring Kyle Connor and Evgeny Svechnikov and Mark Scheifele between Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny.
You get the sense from hearing Ehlers talk he would play anywhere in the lineup. He admitted it’s been frustrating watching from the sidelines, especially with the Jets (24-21-9) still clawing to earn a Western Conference playoff spot.
Winnipeg currently sits six points back of the Stars for the final wild-card position.
“It has been extremely frustrating. You want to be out there with them, and you want to be out there, especially at this time of the year, where you’re battling for a playoff spot,” Ehlers said. “You want to be in that battle with the guys. Feeling good and ready to be back now is exciting and I’m ready to play, I want to play.”
While Ehlers has been bit by the injury bug before over his seven-year NHL career, and has also missed significant time, he’s never had knee issues before. He admitted it was a unique experience trying to return to the ice, and added he had to be patient to make sure he didn’t return before he felt ready.
It was the mental side that bothered Ehlers most about the layoff. Not only was he restricted in what he could do owing to COVID-19 protocols, he also had to process the pain of losing his grandfather.
In a way, Ehlers said, the timing of his injury worked out, even if the circumstances weren’t favourable. Because he was injured, Ehlers was able to go back home to Denmark and be with his family during a difficult time.
“You don’t want to get injured, but if there’s a right time to get injured that was it,” he noted. “I went home and spent a lot of time with my family and my grandma, of course. So, I’m really thankful that I got to go home.”
“I went home and spent a lot of time with my family and my grandma, of course. So, I’m really thankful that I got to go home.” – Nikolaj Ehlers
Ehlers was also asked about the play on which he got hurt. The injury was the result of a blatant hit by Capitals defenceman Dmitry Orlov, who extended his left leg to make direct contact with Ehlers’ left knee.
Ehlers winced in pain on the ice and was visibly irate while making his way back to the bench. At first, he thought it might not be a lasting issue. But as he attempted to stand up on the bench a short time later, it became clear something was seriously off.
Orlov texted Ehlers to apologize for the play, which happened late in the third period, and Ehlers said he appreciated him reaching out. But he added the gesture offered little else, seeing as though the punishment didn’t exactly align with how much time Ehlers was forced to miss.
Orlov, who had been suspended one other time over his 605-game career, back in 2014, was issued a two-game suspension.
“He went in there full-on knowing he was going to go for my knee. So, does it help a lot? No,” Ehlers said. “I was out for six weeks, and he was out for three days. So, yeah.”
“He went in there full-on knowing he was going to go for my knee. So, does it help a lot? No.” – Nikolaj Ehlers
Ehlers wasn’t about to fan the flames of his frustration, as the conversation quickly pivoted back to his return Friday against the Stars. And while he’s eager to get back on the ice to help his teammates, his teammates are just as enthused to welcome him back in the lineup.
“He’s so dynamic; he does things on both sides of the puck that are so prevalent for us,” Adam Lowry said. “He transports the puck through the neutral zone better than anyone on our team, and he brings an element of speed that he’s elite at that and he really pushes defenders back. He can create something out of nothing, it seems.
“He gets the puck, he gets a step on a guy, and you can kind of really drag in and kind of drag the team to help play faster, as you’re just trying to keep up with him. So, he is an elite offensive player and we’re really looking forward to having him back.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.