WINNIPEG – He has three goals in three games, and points in his last four, but Winnipeg Jets rookie Nikolaj Ehlers isn’t satisfied.
“Every game is a new experience for me,” said Ehlers. “I can learn something from every other team in the league.”
It’s not even just other teams the 19-year-old Ehlers is learning from. He’s had many conversations with someone who was in his shoes only a few short years ago. Someone who just happens to skate on the same line as him: Mark Scheifele.
“All he wants to do is learn. He’s a curious kid. That’s awesome in a young kid like that,” said Scheifele. “I try to tell him the biggest thing is not to get frustrated. You’re going to go through slides when you’re not scoring, or you’re hitting a post, you’re still getting your chances, they’re just not going in for you.”
So far, those chances have been going in for Ehlers. His abilities have impressed head coach Paul Maurice, who says the forward’s release and shot selection during games has been very good.
“I’m happy to say he’s been consistent. I think he’s made improvements in his game incrementally as he’s gone along,” said Maurice. “His willingness to be interested and watch video, and apply those things to his game, that’s very positive for him and for us.”
But constantly learning throughout the NHL season doesn’t only apply to rookies. The team as a whole learns from every game, including last night’s 4-1 set back to the Los Angeles Kings. Bryan Little, who played 19:33 last night, points out the neutral zone as an area for improvement.
“I think right now we might be trying to make that extra pass getting into the zone and turning pucks over, resulting in less time in their end, and more time for us chasing the puck around,” said Little. “We just have to simplify our game and do what made us successful last year. Get pucks in, and don’t try to do anything over the top.”
The Jets led the game’s shots on goal totals through 40 minutes, but the Kings came on strong in the third, out-shooting Winnipeg 14-5 in the final 20 minutes.
“They spent more time in our end than we did in theirs. Some of that reason was how we tried to move the puck,” said Maurice following the team’s practice at MTS Iceplex. “It wasn’t a soft game by any means. The turnovers weren’t casual or really high-risk turnovers. They were just things where we didn’t take what they gave us. We tried to manufacture it.”
But Maurice said that’s not all bad, adding that he wants skilled players to have the confidence to make plays.
“We’re not showing video of turnovers or pucks that didn’t get deep with the idea ‘hey we want to dump pucks here,’” Maurice said. “We want to get pucks deep and spend time in their end of the ice, but we have skilled players and we want them to make plays as well.”
The next opportunity to do just that comes Thursday night against another Central Division rival, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Jets were 3-1-1 against Chicago last season, resulting in seven valuable points in the 2014-2015 version of the Central Division. Maurice and his staff have already begun to prepare for tomorrow’s game, which closes out the Jets’ season-long six-game home stand.
“It’s a really interesting team to watch on video. They get that puck in the offensive zone, and there’s nobody that does what they do,” said Maurice of the defending Stanley Cup champions. “They’ll put a little bit more risk in, but not at the expense of quality hockey. But they get that puck in the offensive zone, and they’re not giving it back to you easily.
“They’re going to cross, they’re going to drop pass, and they’re going to control that puck.”
Chicago will be starting a quick two-game road trip beginning in Winnipeg tomorrow night, and bring a 6-3-0 record to MTS Centre.
“They’re a good team,” said Scheifele. “It’s going to be a tight game, but we’ve played in a lot of tight games over the last few games. We’ll be ready for them, and it’ll be a fun game.”
– Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com