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This article was published 22/6/2015 (2564 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He might be the most dynamic player in the Winnipeg Jets organization. He is an absolute wizard with the puck on his stick, nothing but a blur when in full stride and sports a likable humility-meets-quiet-confidence that instantly draws in fans wherever and whenever he steps on the ice.
Yet, get this: Nikolaj Ehlers has yet to play a single regular-season National Hockey League game.
We bring this up today to open the third installment of our Jets At the Draft series which examines the franchise's depth at five positions -- centre, right wing, left wing, defence and goal -- because Ehlers, a left-winger drafted ninth overall last year, has the kind of potential starpower that has hockey types drooling and a marketing department gleefully rubbing its hands together at the possibilities.
Ehlers didn't just dominate over his last two years with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, he chewed up the circuit, scoring 86 goals and 205 points in just 114 games. He was the Q's top rookie and winner of the Mike Bossy Trophy (awarded to the top professional prospect) two years ago, and this past season was named a first-team all-star and honoured with the Paul Dumont Trophy this year as the league's personality of the year.
The complete package? Sure as heck looks so.
Interestingly, where Ehlers plays next year -- not just which uniform he pulls on, but what position he calls home -- will be one of those debates that will rage through the summer and into training camp. Ehlers would have to return to Halifax if he doesn't make the Jets, but there are rumblings if he does stick he could be flipped to the right side -- and possibly line up with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd -- to not only give him a real opportunity to shine with meaty minutes, but possibly fill a void if Michael Frolik bolts in free agency.
While that scenario plays out, the young Dane's upside has made the Jets left wing -- already a deep unit, even with the trade of Evander Kane in February -- one of the more intriguing positions on the organizational depth chart.
Andrew Ladd, the team's captain and most consistent forward over the past few years, anchors the left side, while converted centre Mathieu Perreault was a superb fit with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler on the team's 1A line.
After that there are some question marks -- Jiri Tlusty, picked up at the trade deadline for a fifth-round pick this year and a third-rounder next, is an unrestricted free agent while T.J. Galiardi has already exited, signing with Malmo in Sweden. (Drew Stafford, who finished the year in Perreault's spot with Scheifele and Wheeler, was included in our right-wing chapter, as was Matt Halischuk. Both are unrestricted free agents).
But with the left-wing prospect pool deep, even after Ehlers, with the likes of Brendan Lemieux, C.J. Franlkin and Matt Ustascki all on the horizon, the Jets may soon be able to counter any potential free-agent losses. The left side of this house, it would appear, has a solid foundation.
This is the third in a series. Tuesday: Part 4 -- Defence.
What's in the Jets' system:
- ANDREW LADD: Consistent point producer who led the Jets in scoring, setting a career-high in the process. Durable and a respected leader in the room. Entering the option-year of his deal and it's almost impossible to imagine him being anywhere else but in Winnipeg in the years ahead.
Ladd FYI: Age: 29. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 81; G: 24; A: 38; Pts: 62.
Contract: One year remaining on current deal at $4.5 million.
- MATHIEU PERREAULT: Was considered a solid addition when signed in free agency last summer, but few outside of the Jets brass figured he's provide so much. Adapted quickly after being moved from centre to left wing, Perreault is solid in the face-off circle and an important component on the power-play. Was on his way to setting career highs in goals and points when he was injured and his durability might be a concern going forward.
Perreault FYI: Age: 28. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 62; G: 18; A: 23; Pts: 41
Contract: Two years remaining at $3 million.
- JIRI TLUSTY: Didn't provide the bottom-six scoring the Jets had hoped after trading two picks for him -- he had one goal in 20 games -- but did add skill to the third line. Worth noting: 10 of his 14 goals came before the end of November last year and he scored just four times in his final 50.
Tlusty FYI: Age: 27. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 72; G: 14; A: 17; Pts: 32.
Contract: Unrestricted free agent; earned $2.95 million last season.
TOP LEFT-WING PROSPECT
- NIK EHLERS, HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS
Can play both wings and even took some turns at centre in Halifax... Prolific scorer and concerns about his size -- 5-11, 176 -- are often forgotten when he is slipping checks with his speed. The club would like him to add some weight, but he'll never serve as a body double for Dustin Byfuglien... NHL-calibre shot that he can release while at top speed... Discussion next fall if he doesn't crack the Jets Top 6 will be whether he benefits from another year of junior and playing for Denmark at another World Junior Hockey Championship.
- JASON JAFFRAY: The organization has moved on from long-time 34-year-old member of the Moose/Jets/IceCaps organization. He's been the IceCaps captain for the last four years, but the Jets wanted to go younger with the Moose this season.
- CHASE BALISY: Finished second with the IceCaps in scoring last year to defenceman Will O'Neill, but has also moved on and signed with the Florida Panthers earlier this month.
- BRANDON MACLEAN: Had just two assists in 40 games with the IceCaps and signed this offseason with the Ravensburg Tower Stars in Germany
IN THE SYSTEM
(draft picks or players under NHL deals)
- BRENDAN LEMIEUX, BARRIE COLTS: A key part of the deal the Jets made with the Sabres this winter. He had 41 goals and 60 points in 57 games with the Colts and played hurt near the end of the year and into the playoffs. The club's hockey ops people are anxious to see him at their Development Camp next month and at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton. He has a competitive edge to his game, just like his father Claude.
- MATT USTASKI, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Project type player who takes a size XL in everything -- 6-6, 220 pounds. Broke his foot blocking a shot this year and it affected his numbers in his freshman year with the Badgers (four goals, eight points in 24 games). But can play both centre and wing and has decent hands and skating ability. Not a bad longshot pick (7th round last year, 192nd overall).
- C.J. FRANKLIN, MINNESOTA STATE: A fifth-round pick last June, Franklin had a very good freshman year with the Mavericks (nine goals, 28 points in 37 games). Not the biggest guy at 5-11, 190, but has a high hockey IQ and a solid frame. Was named to the 2014-15 WCHA All-Rookie Team.
- IVAN TELEGIN, CKSA MOSCOW: Was the top LW prospect in our series for two years, but injuries and concussions derailed the big Russian's career. The Jets still own the 23-year-old's rights and if he can regain his form -- he had three goals in 31 KHL games last year -- he might be an intriguing addition one day. But there's also a sense that maybe this ship has sailed.
THE NHL'S BEST
By comparison, a look at some the NHL's top left wings (ranked by 2014-15 scoring):
- JAMIE BENN, DAL.: GP: 82; G: 35; A: 52; Pts: 87.
- ALEX OVECHKIN, WASH.: GP: 81; G: 53; A: 28: Pts.: 81
- DANIEL SEDIN, VAN.: GP: 82; G: 20; A: 56; Pts.: 76.
- NICK FOLIGNO, CBJ: GP: 79; G: 31; A: 42; Pts.: 73.
- RICK NASH, NYR: GP: 79; G: 42; A: 27; Pts.: 69
OTHER NOTABLE LEFT WINGS: Max Pacioretty, Mtl; Alex Steen, St. L.; Johnny Gaudreau, Cal.; Zach Parise, Minn.; Taylor Hall, Edm.