Ambition drives Ehlers

Dazzling Dane impressing on, off ice at D-camp


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His artistry with the puck -- those oh-so slick hands that have instantly become his trademark -- are already being described by witnesses in poetic terms.

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His artistry with the puck — those oh-so slick hands that have instantly become his trademark — are already being described by witnesses in poetic terms.

But there’s more, much more, to Nikolaj Ehlers than meets the eye — and what meets the eye has repeatedly drawn gasps and oohs and aahs from fans attending Winnipeg Jets Development Camp this week.

A 10-minute chat with the 18-year-old Dane after practice Thursday provided a tease as to his quiet confidence, a trait that enamoured him to Jets’ brass prior to last month’s NHL Draft in Philadelphia.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Nikolaj Ehlers, who has flashed his skill and speed at the Iceplex this week, expects to reach the NHL soon.

He’s a kid that answers questions thoughtfully and by looking his inquisitors straight in the eye. He speaks six languages — Danish, German, Swiss-German, French, English and Swedish — and carries himself with the poise of a 10-year vet.

Asked about the almost-folklore story that was working through the media after the draft — the one where he listed his 14-year-old sister Caroline as one of the biggest influences in his career — and Ehlers explained some media torqued the tale a bit for dramatic effect.

So when it came time to re-tell the details again on Thursday, Ehlers made sure to include the rest of those who were influential in having his name called out ninth overall at the draft.

“She has been supporting me a lot, like the rest of my family,” said Ehlers of his younger sister. “I just thought it was funny to tell that she was coming over during the periods and telling me what to do. Obviously, she tried to help me as much as she could, but it’s the same for the rest of my family and that’s why I’m here.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for a lot of people around me, a lot of friends, a lot of family, a lot of guys on the team, staff… everything. Obviously, I needed to do my thing, too. I needed to work hard for it every single day.

“It’s definitely a good story about my sister, but it has been taken pretty far. That’s OK.”

Ehlers’ father Heinz — drafted by the New York Rangers in 1984 and now a coach in Switzerland — might be his biggest influence. There’s sister Caroline, of course. His brother Sebastian plays for his hometown Aalborg Pirates and his mom has hockey in her background, as well.

“Every single dinner it was only about hockey,” said Ehlers with a grin. “My mother had three brothers who played hockey, my brother plays hockey, my dad played hockey and is a coach now. I’m playing hockey. My sister has watched all our games.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of other things to talk about, but we all like hockey, we all love watching it, talking about it.”

It was while playing with Biel of the Swiss A-League as a 16- and 17-year-old during the NHL lockout — a roster that included Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin — that Ehlers first started thinking about coming overseas to further pursue his hockey dream.

He landed with the Halifax Mooseheads and absolutely rocked the QMJHL by scoring 49 goals and finishing with 104 points in 63 games this past season. That got him noticed. But, again, it wasn’t just the dirty dangles and hockey sense that hockey types found impressive, it was how he conducted himself in interviews — in particular, his humility and understanding of his own game — that opened eyes further leading up to the draft.

Mix that with the boyhood joy for the game and you have a Grade-A prospect.

‘Obviously it would be nice to already play in the NHL next year, but I know I have a lot of things I can work on. I’m just going to take it as it comes and see what happens’

— Jets’ first-rounder Nikolaj Ehlers

His eyes light up when he describes having the puck on his stick. And when he talks about taking his shot at impressing the Jets at main camp in the fall — knowing full well cracking the big club is a long shot — there’s a sense he doesn’t just hope to wear Jets’ colours soon.

He expects it.

“I’m just going to take it as it comes and I’m not going to be disappointed if they send me back to Halifax,” said Ehlers. “I’m going to take that as a challenge. Obviously it would be nice to already play in the NHL next year, but I know I have a lot of things I can work on. I’m just going to take it as it comes and see what happens.”

But that’s a few months from now. The last few weeks have been such a whirlwind, the young Dane is just now understanding the magnitude of it all.

“I’m pretty happy. I’ve been pretty excited. I was really excited for this week,” he said. “I was home for four days (after the draft)… I couldn’t wait. I just wanted to fly over here and now I’m finally here. It’s amazing. Seeing all the other guys, being with and against good players, it’s great. I’m enjoying every single minute here.

“I’ve got this week, the next two days, and then I’m going home. I think that’s when I’m really going to realize, ‘I just got drafted. This is what I’ve been waiting for.’ I’ve been stressed the past few weeks because of the draft and coming over here.

“But right now I’m just enjoying the moment.”

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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