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Ehlers finds new ways to improve his game

23-year-old watched footage of all 62 games he played last season

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

WINNIPEG - It was a busy summer for Nikolaj Ehlers, who watched every shift from every game he played in the 2018-19 season.

"I hope I learned something," Ehlers said with a grin. "I went through every single game and looked at what I did a lot, good and bad things. I tried to change it now on the ice and do it better. The things I did well, try to keep doing that and work on that as well. 

"I've learned a lot from my dad and especially since we talk about hockey every single day. It was fun. You learn every year and this was something new that I wanted to try and do."

The addition of watching video in the summer didn't come as a surprise to Paul Maurice, who is well aware Ehlers' dad, Heinz, is the coach of Denmark's national hockey team.

"He may not have had an option with that. It may have been at the dinner table," Maurice joked. "With Nik, he wants to get better and he wants to improve. We felt that happened for him last year. He comes into this league, skates like the wind, can put up points. Then each year - especially in the second half of last year - he started to figure out the Nik Ehlers way to grind.

"So Ehlers and (Adam) Lowry are going to grind in a different way. But each player has to be able to get combative and win battles and win pucks on the wall. For slightly built young players that's an awful big challenge."

Video: TRAINING CAMP | Nikolaj Ehlers

The 23-year-old Ehlers comes into his fifth NHL season one point shy of 200 for his career and needs 10 more goals to reach 100.

He scored 21 goals in 62 games last season, marking the third time he's hit the 20-goal mark in his career.

"This guy is going to score, I don't know, 20 to 40 goals over the course of his year really consistently for us," said Maurice. "Where his minutes come up is durability and effectiveness away from the puck. In order to do that, you have to put the time in. I think he did."

Since he played his first game in 2015, Ehlers has learned what he needs to do in camp to be ready for the regular season.

"I want to play as much as I can," Ehlers said. "I think for me is the best way to get ready for the regular season is playing games. For some guys it's different. If I put a number on it - four, maybe five - I'm good with that."

Before the games come though (the first preseason game comes on Monday in Edmonton against the Oilers), Ehlers and the other 47 players in camp have to get through practices like Saturday's: a full 90 minutes of rushes and battle drills.

And they didn't take it easy on each other.

"There are guys that are trying to make this team. There are guys that are trying to keep their place on this team. It would surprise me if it wasn't like that," Ehlers said. "Everyone wants to play well, everyone wants to work hard, and show the bosses that they can play NHL hockey."

The speedy winger will recover tonight, then do it all over again on Sunday.

During the grind that is camp, Ehlers says he stays focused on the little things.

"You want to get back into skating more and playing games - getting all the small details right before the season starts," Ehlers said. "I've had really good preparation to do my best at camp and put myself in a good position. I feel really good right now and I just need to continue working."

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