Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 28/10/2015 (2058 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Put Nikolaj Ehlers in front of a throng of media, staring smack dab into those bright camera lights, and humility oozes from his every answer.
Yes, he has looked at the NHL’s rookie scoring leaders list. And, of course, he’d like to stay in the discussion with the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. But every answer also comes with an accompanying "just trying to get better" or a ‘helping the team get wins’ line. He’s been taught and trained well at saying the right things that won’t make headlines or roll eyes inside the Winnipeg Jets dressing room.
So, let’s say it right here: Ehlers has not only been a quick study on the ice — heading into Wednesday night’s action only three rookies, McDavid, Domi and Chicago’s Artemi Panarin had juicier totals than his four goals and seven points — but his ability to adjust off it has been just as critical.
"He’s impressed everyone," said Jets centre Bryan Little. "You watch him out there with the puck... he’s got so much patience. He doesn’t look like a rookie out there. You see a lot of rookies come in and they’re a little timid with the puck and want to get rid of it fast. But he holds onto it and he’s got a lot of patience.
"He’s mature. All our young guys, we ask a lot of them to come in here and play big roles for us. They’re all mature beyond their years and they all have a voice in the dressing room. We don’t really look at them as these kids. They’re a big part of our hockey team."
Now, there have been the occasional mistakes with Ehlers, junior habits so to speak, where he hangs on to the puck a tad too long or tries to be a little cute. But what has impressed everyone in the dressing room is how much he wants to learn and how well he takes constructive criticism.
What has everyone intrigued is just how high the 19-year-old Dane’s ceiling might be. After all, if he is this good now...
"He has such a great sense offensively," said linemate Mark Scheifele. "He has such patience with the puck. Obviously he has unbelievable skill, he’s got a great shot. He’s just a really special player. The scary thing is he’s still got a lot of learning to do. You can just imagine the player he is going to be when he continues to grow into himself. It’s exciting to play with him and it’s exciting to see where he’s going to go.
"I’ve talked to him a bunch already," said Scheifele. "All he wants to do is learn. He’s a curious kid and that’s awesome. I try to help him as much as I can. The biggest thing is not to get frustrated. You’re going to go through slides where you’re not scoring, you’re hitting a post but still getting chances but they’re still not going in for you. The biggest thing is to stay calm. You start to get worried when you’re not getting chances."
Generating offence hasn’t been a problem at all for Ehlers. His 33 shots leads all Jets and all NHL rookies. Jets coach Paul Maurice spoke Wednesday of Ehlers not just blindly firing pucks at the net, but keeping his head up when he shoots and seeing areas where he can get shots through as legit scoring chances.
Ehlers said he felt comfortable coming into training camp, knowing that the work he had put in over the last year had made his game more NHL ready. He’s ecstatic to be on a line with Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault and was thrilled to score his first goal at Madison Square Garden. He’s getting a lot of love right now, from the Jets, around Winnipeg and across the NHL.
But, again, his humility gene seems to kick in whenever he senses the backslapping might be becoming a bit much.
"It’s nice to hear the things they say but I’ve also got to stay... it’s hard to say, but I’ve got to stay down and just keep calm and keep playing the way I’ve been playing and see from there," said Ehlers. "The only thing I’m thinking about is getting some wins with the guys and just keep getting better."
Interestingly, tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks will be Ehlers 10th in the NHL. And while there’s little doubt he’s earned his place with the Jets, that’s a significant number. Players with junior eligibility left, after all, can be returned to their CHL clubs before suiting up for their 10th game to defer the first year of their contract.
So, Ehlers was asked, when is the last time he thought or worried about being sent back to the Halifax Moosheads?
"There’s always that possibility that you might end up going back. But, I haven’t been thinking about that at all," he said. "I’ve just been trying to go out there and play the game and have fun with it. Thinking about going back is not fun so..."
Interrupting, yours truly joked: "Hey, sorry for bringing it up."
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"That’s the kind of player I am, the kind of player I’ve always been," said Ehlers with a shrug. "Of course there are some adjustments you have to make. You can’t try to do too much, but you also don’t want to shrink and not do anything at all. Of course there are mistakes I make. But what NHL player doesn’t make mistakes? I’m still trying to find that balance."