It was a bit of a down season for Nikolaj Ehlers who played the fewest games of his NHL career after missing 20 games with an injury. There’s been some speculation recently that Ehlers might be headed to the trade block, but with strong underlying numbers and decent contract, the Jets would be wise to keep Ehlers around for as long as possible.

Nikolaj Ehlers
27 – Left Wing
6’0″ / 172 lbs / Age: 23

The Numbers

2018-19 62 21 16 37 2 15 158 13.3 265 15:46 16 27 28 17
Career 298 90 109 199 20 100 760 11.8 1369 16:24 96 138 122 163
Cors Cors Cors Cors Fenw Fenw Fenw Fenw PDO PDO PDO PDO PDO Zone Zone
Season GP TOI CF CA CF% CF% rel FF FA FF% FF% rel oiGF oiSH% oiGA oiSV% PDO oZS% dZS%
2018-19 62 896.2 894 839 51.6 3.0 678 637 51.6 3.0 40 8.1 37 92.1 100.2 57.5 42.5
Career 298 4253.4 4333 3892 52.7 3.3 3264 2910 52.9 3.5 221 9.5 196 90.9 100.4 55.3 44.7

Contract Status

Assuming the Jets don’t trade Ehlers, he’s going to be around for a long time as he just finished the first season of his seven year contract. He’s on the books for a price of $6 million per season which provides fairly strong value given his abilities on the ice. If the cap continues to rise over the next few seasons, Ehlers’ contract could become an even bigger bargain for the organization.

Player’s Season in Review

One of the peculiar things about Ehlers is the droughts that he goes through. It started right at the beginning of the year as he went without a point for the first five games. He managed to string a few assists together but still went without a goal through the first nine games. It took until game number ten against the Leafs before Ehlers finally got on the board and ripped the monkey off his back in celebration.

It seemed that the rest of the season followed the same path for Ehlers. He would generate chances and consistently help drive possession on his line but would be unable to generate points. It was the opposite problem of the top line who tended to get out-shot but still managed to out-score the opposition.

As far as the basic numbers go, Ehlers finished with his lowest point total of his career although that’s because of the 20 games he missed during the season. As far as points per game, Ehlers was generating the same rate of goals at 0.34 per game but was falling behind on assists with 0.26 per game (career average is 0.37 assists per game). The drop in assists is slightly concerning, but it likely has something to do with Laine scoring the fewest goals of his career. If anything, it further proves the point that many fans have made which is that Ehlers and Laine play their best hockey when they are on separate lines.

Even though Ehlers’ boxscore stats weren’t the best, his underlying numbers were great. He consistently helped drive possession as he finished fifth on the team in on-ice xGoals% with 50.2%. He was also near the top of the team in scoring chances for % with 52.48% and CF% with 52.42%.

The shot map backs up the numbers as Winnipeg was able to generate tons of shots from the slot with Ehlers on the ice. It’s expected that Ehlers isn’t going to drive the play right into the crease with his slender build, but his quickness allows him to get many chances from the higher slot area.

One of the biggest advantages to having Ehlers in the lineup is that he makes other players better.

Two very important things to point out about this chart. First of all, check out how far Laine (black square 29) is towards the ‘bad’ part of the graph when playing with Ehlers. That’s a stark contrast to how well Ehlers plays away from Laine (blue square 29). This further illustrates that these players are better away from each other despite the off-ice friendship they have.

The other important piece to this chart is the overall trend of players getting much worse when they are playing without Ehlers as a linemate. Nearly every single player gets more shots for and few shots against when they are able to play with the speedy winger. It’s an important part of Ehlers’ game because he is one of the few Jets forwards that can truly drive the possession on a line and make his teammates better.

The Playoffs

Scor Scor Scor Shot Shot Shot Ice
2018-19 6 0 0 0 -2 0 16 0.0 23 12:50 3 2 4 0
Career 21 0 7 7 2 2 42 0.0 88 15:00 11 9 12 7
Cors Cors Cors Cors Fenw Fenw Fenw Fenw PDO PDO PDO PDO PDO Zone Zone
Season GP TOI CF CA CF% CF% rel FF FA FF% FF% rel oiGF oiSH% oiGA oiSV% PDO oZS% dZS%
2018-19 6 77.0 74 72 50.7 1.5 55 60 47.8 -1.7 0 0.0 2 95.2 95.2 66.7 33.3
Career 21 314.9 374 272 57.9 8.3 272 203 57.3 7.4 14 7.3 9 93.6 100.9 68.1 31.9

It was another rough playoff run for Ehlers who went scoreless for the second straight year. It’s almost ridiculous to think about at this point considering he’s played 21 games and has 42 shots in that span. To make matters even worse, Ehlers didn’t even register a point in any game this year. The caveat to this year’s poor numbers is that he was not fully healthy which was clearly evident  when watching the game.  It’s obvious that things will turn around for him eventually, but until then he will continue to be a scapegoat for many fans.

What We Said A Year Ago

 “When Scheifele got hurt in the middle of the season, the lines shifted around which meant Ehlers played with Perreault and Little. This line had eye-popping numbers during their time together including a CF% of 62.38, a GF% of 62.88 and an xGF% of 63.39 during 5 on 5 play.”

Future Outlook

Heading into next season, it’s a mystery who Ehlers’ linemates might be. He might be paired with Little and Laine again or things might get shuffled around in some other configuration. It seems that Ehlers plays his best hockey away from Laine, so splitting them up will likely help both players. One thing for certain is that Ehlers will continue to use his blazing speed and quick hands to dazzle around defensmen night in and night out. The rest of his game is starting to round into form as well which means Ehlers will continue to be one of the best forwards in Winnipeg for many years to come.