Jets' Ehlers fourth rookie with hat trick in January

Wednesday, 01.27.2016 / 10:05 AM

The kids are all right.

When the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 on Tuesday, not only did forward Nikolaj Ehlers record his first NHL hat trick, he became the sixth rookie this season and the fourth in January with a three-goal game.

Ehlers' hat trick had some historical significance. He became the second teenager in Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history with a three-goal game. Ehlers (19 years, 347 days), who turns 20 on Feb. 14, is slightly older than Ilya Kovalchuk was when he had a hat trick at age 19 years, 235 days, in a Dec. 6, 2002 game against the Washington Capitals.

"Kid scored three goals, there's not much you can say about that; he's good," Jets teammate Dustin Byfuglien told the Winnipeg Free Press. "He's been good all year. He’s just finding his way. It's not easy to make that step and come right into the NHL. I'm happy for him and hopefully he can keep it going for us."

Ehlers' hat trick followed a trifecta of three-goal games by rookies earlier this month in a span of four days. Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres kicked it off Jan. 10 against the Jets. Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes did it against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 12. Then Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames had perhaps the most dominant performance by a first-year player this season when he scored four goals Jan. 13 against the Florida Panthers.

Reinhart and Domi each turned 20 in the past year. Bennett won't turn 20 until June 20 and became the youngest Flames player to have a four-goal game, wowing his coach and teammates in the process.

"He skated so well," coach Bob Hartley told the Calgary Sun after the game. "… Right from the start of the game he was flying out there. I'm very happy for him."

Veteran goalie Jonas Hiller said of Bennett: "He has so much skill and it's not easy as a 19-year-old when all eyes are on you. And when things don't go well it's tough to find your way out. He found a way and it proves he can be a really great player in this League."

Domi wasn't the first Coyotes rookie this season with; that honor went to Anthony Duclair, another 20-year-old, on Oct. 14 against the Anaheim Ducks. Frank Vatrano of the Boston Bruins, the greybeard of the group at 21 but a rookie nonetheless, is the other member of the exclusive three-goal club when he had a hat trick against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 18.

With more than one-third of the NHL season remaining after the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game is played Sunday in Nashville, and the talented crop of young players in the League this season, it's possible the number of rookie hat tricks could reach double digits before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

Still unaccounted for on the list are the top-two picks in the 2015 NHL Draft: Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, who is expected to return to the lineup early next month after sustaining a broken left clavicle Nov. 3; and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, who had a two-goal game Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, his third of the season.

Ehlers, who never had scored more than one goal in an NHL game prior to Tuesday, told the Winnipeg Free Press he's seeing results after learning to make adjustments to the League as a first-year player. He has six goals and two assists in his past seven games.

"At the beginning of the season I think it went really well," he said. "But I've been saying that the League gets better and better and for you to stay on the team as well you've got to get better and better as well. And I didn't do that at the beginning. I stayed the same; I didn't get better. I took that and tried to do what I could to play a good game every night. I've been doing that ever since and I feel it's been helping me a lot."

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