Happy with heap of helpers

Playing with snipers Scheifele, Laine has Ehlers third in NHL for assists

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BOSTON — Nikolaj Ehlers loved the rush of scoring goals as a youngster, and now he’s enjoying setting up the goals of others off the rush.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2016 (2202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BOSTON — Nikolaj Ehlers loved the rush of scoring goals as a youngster, and now he’s enjoying setting up the goals of others off the rush.

Ehlers, 20, has fired a boatload of goals in his young life, including 15 in his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets.

Before jumping to the NHL, the Danish speedster tore up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, ripping 86 goals in 114 regular-season games with the Halifax Moosehead while adding another 21 in the playoffs.

ROSS D FRANKLIN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Winnipeg Jets right wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) celebrates his goal against the Arizona Coyotes with center Mark Scheifele (55) and right wing Patrik Laine (29) during the third period.

In his sophomore pro campaign, the goals are coming with less regularity for the 6-0, 172-pound left-winger.

But the assists keep piling up as Ehlers plays alongside the league’s leading point-getter, centre Mark Scheifele, and the NHL’s top goal scorer, rookie right-winger Patrik Laine.

He was third in the league with 13 assists — behind only Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim, Tyler Seguin of Dallas and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, heading into Saturday’s action. Over the past two weeks, he’s registered 11 helpers, the most by any player during that stretch.

Ehlers said while he’s had a knack for filling the net, he’s always taken pride in his playmaking ability as well.

“When I was a kid, I was probably the guy who wanted to score. But I’d say I did both (scoring and setting up) about 50-50,” he said Saturday.

“It’s a team game, so whatever you can to do help your team win, you do it. Right now, this feels great. Whether it’s a good goal or a good pass that leads up to a goal, it’s awesome.

“It feels good putting that puck onto somebody’s tape and he puts it in.”

Ehlers isn’t getting any cheapies from the league statisticians, either. Seven of his helpers have been primary assists, meaning he’s, indeed, the guy arming the shooter.

The other night in Philadelphia, Blake Wheeler’s second-period goal on Flyers goalie Steve Mason developed off the rush and was highlighted by a terrific pass from Ehlers.

Racing to the net, he took a rink-wide feed from Scheifele and, although he was alone in front, elected to slide the puck over to the Jets captain for an easy tally.

All five Winnipeg skaters on the ice had a puck touch on the play. Scheifele’s assist on the play was his 12th.

Ehlers, the ninth-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, said his confidence level during this recent stretch is as high as it’s been since he arrived in Winnipeg.

“With confidence, those plays open up a bit more because you’re doing everything a bit faster. You just have to make that final pass, and I’ve got two guys who can finish,” he said.

Ehlers said good communication has been key to the trio’s success.

“We talk all the time. It’s a lot of chemistry, and it seems to be building,” he said. “They make it a lot easier for me out there. Our line is playing with a lot of confidence. I’m using my speed as much as I can, so we feel good about things.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Ehlers’ wheels make him a dangerous offensive threat every time he’s on the ice.

“Nik’s ability, which separates him from a lot of players, is he can see things at high speed. He can get to a real high rate of speed and then still see the ice and still make passes and make those plays,” said Maurice.

“But because of his speed, he has to be watched, he has to be covered. That speed backs people off his linemates as well.

“We still think he’s a shooter. But we do like the idea of a player that can skate and pass the puck — with Mark, who skates well, and with Patty, who shoots the way he does — that we’d like to see that line, each one of their assets, complement each other.”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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