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This article was published 22/6/2015 (1953 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:
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.
Perreault FYI: Age: 28. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 62; G: 18; A: 23; Pts: 41
Contract: Two years remaining at $3 million.
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.
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.
(draft picks or players under NHL deals)
By comparison, a look at some the NHL's top left wings (ranked by 2014-15 scoring):
OTHER NOTABLE LEFT WINGS: Max Pacioretty, Mtl; Alex Steen, St. L.; Johnny Gaudreau, Cal.; Zach Parise, Minn.; Taylor Hall, Edm.
Updated on Monday, June 22, 2015 at 7:58 AM CDT: Replaces photo, removes photos, fixes formatting
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