WINNIPEG - Nikolaj Ehlers has only had one coach since he came into the National Hockey League at the start of the 2015-16 season, and that's Paul Maurice.
"It's very unusual, even in Europe, to have the same coach for that long," said Ehlers. "But it just shows what kind of coach and what kind of guy Paul is. I think everyone on the team is very happy with the way he coaches us."
The growth in Ehlers' game since that first regular season game in 2015 has been immense.
Over the years, Maurice has always given credit to the players for the on-ice improvements they show. He always says it's the players that put the work in, and make the plays when the game is on the line.
Ehlers has certainly done that. One only has to look at Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the latest example of the 25-year-old's heroics.
It was his first game of the playoffs after missing the first two games of the playoffs, and the final nine games of the regular season due to injury - which he revealed Wednesday to be a posterior labrum tear in his shoulder that he's "had for some time" and a first-rib cartilage fracture.
Video: YEAR END | Stastny, Pionk
Ehlers scored twice, including the overtime winner, to give the Jets the win.
But even if the Danish forward was the one putting in the work, he won't shy away from complimenting the way Maurice made him a better player.
"There's always something with the on-ice stuff that he's got for you, whether it's good or bad. That goes for the whole coaching staff as well," said Ehlers. "They're great at finding small things that they can help you with, whether they do video or it's on-ice. They'll pull you aside. That's been huge for me to work on the small details of the game."
That was a sentiment echoed from a number of Jets players on Wednesday, as the group met for a final time and held exit meetings to close out the 2020-21 campaign.
Neal Pionk, fresh off two of his most productive seasons in the NHL, said the confidence Maurice and the coaching staff showed in him made a big difference in his performance.
Video: YEAR END | Copp, Ehlers
Blake Wheeler has often said he'd go through a wall for Maurice.
Paul Stastny, immediately after his 1,000th NHL game on May 11, eloquently stated how Maurice interacts with his players.
"He's really evolved as a person, as a coach, and the way he talks about us, the way the relationship is, it's almost kind of -- it's like a father/son, like a mentor relationship where you can always look up to him and look for him for guidance," Stastny said. "He has a lot of impactful speeches -- stuff that I'll remember, always -- that when you're younger you probably wouldn't pay attention but as you're older, you realize how important some of these things are that he's talking about."
Perhaps, then, it's no surprise to hear players - whether they've been on the team for multiple seasons, or the one that's just past - voice their support for Maurice.
He's won 762 games behind an NHL bench, sixth most all-time. The victory over the Calgary Flames on May 5 also not only secured his team's playoff spot, but gave Maurice his 300th win behind the Jets bench. That made him just the third coach in NHL history to reach 300 wins with two franchises.
"I've been on teams where the coach has lost the team and the message isn't being received and the guys roll their eyes every time he says something," said Wheeler. "I mean, that's just never happened with Paul. I think his message is still received. I think the guys have just a ton of respect for him because he's first of all a good person and a good man and he treats us as people."
That mutual respect remains even in trying times.
Video: YEAR END | Blake Wheeler
The Jets' final 12 games of the regular season included a seven-game losing streak as part of a 3-9-0 finish.
During that stretch, it would've been easy for things to go sideways, for the team's belief in each other to erode.
But it never happened.
"I have full support in Paul Maurice. But I know I'm not alone there," said Mark Scheifele, who Maurice sat during game against Toronto during the losing streak.
Video: YEAR END | Scheifele, Dubois
Scheifele holds no ill will toward the coach for that.
"That's learning lessons. That's coaching. I'm a guy that loves to learn," said Scheifele. "I want the coach to push me, I want my peers to push me. That's what makes good teams, that's what bonds relationships, is your peers, the forms of authority pushing you for more, pushing you for better."
The season didn't end the way Maurice, or the players, would have liked. That's for sure.
However, they fully believe the man behind the bench is the right one to get the team where it wants to go.
"I've felt a lot of the decisions he made, whether it be line combinations or what have you were right on. I think his feel for our team was really good this year," said Wheeler. "I think in some respects the way Paul handled our team this year was almost as good as he's ever been."