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Nikolaj Ehlers emerging for Jets

Second-year forward overcame 15-game goal drought to grow into front-line player

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Laughing in the face of adversity may have seemed risky for Nikolaj Ehlers but his confidence proved to be justified.

The Winnipeg Jets forward relied on persistence and good humor to get him through a 15-game goalless streak that stretched from Nov. 10 to Dec. 10. He has 10 goals in his past 12 games and five in his past five.

"I didn't get down at all," Ehlers said after practice Sunday, the Jets preparing to play against the Calgary Flames at MTS Centre on Monday (8 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, TSN3, SNW, NHL.TV). "That's the thing, a lot of people thought I did." 

A perfect example of Ehlers' ability to deal with adversity came against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 3. Going for his third goal of the game, Ehlers shot the puck toward an empty net, only to see it hit the post. His reaction: "I just put my hands in the air and smiled."

"Sometimes that happens and that 15-game streak where I didn't score any was like that," Ehlers said. "I knew it was going to come at some point but it was kind of funny how they kept going right past the post. I didn't let myself get down. I knew that the goals were going to come. I think that's how I got myself out of it."

Video: WPG@FLA: Ehlers hammers home a nice wrister

In Ehlers' second NHL season, the No. 9 selection in the 2014 NHL Draft has all but matched his production from his rookie season. He has 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points. As a rookie, he scored 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points in 72 games.

"I'm still in the learning mode," Ehlers said. "This is my second year. I've still got lots to learn. Going through slumps like I did, with not getting the puck in the net, that's just part of the learning process."

The 20-year-old from Aalborg, Denmark had a modest four goals in the first 15 games of this season. He was stuck on that number for the 15 games but Jets coach Paul Maurice had no issue with the offense Ehlers was creating and said it was difficult to say why the puck suddenly starting going in again for him. 

"Boy if we knew the answer to that ... the chances don't look any different," Maurice said. "I guess that confidence, and only the shooters know the release point. He gets that puck off from his back foot sometimes and so quickly.

"Maybe he's shooting harder or he's pressing or he's hanging on for a half-second or he's trying to place it early on, then you get a couple to go and then you're not thinking because it's just on and off your stick. But he is certainly on a roll."

Ehlers had 11 assists during the 15 games he went without a goal.

"It's not like I had nothing at all," he said. "I think I played really well even though the pucks weren't going in and as a line, we created a lot of chances. So I knew it was just a matter of time before they went in."

He said he changed nothing in his play or his routine.

"No, did nothing more than I usually do," he said. "I still stayed on the ice at least 20, 30 minutes after practice, sometimes longer, to shoot. That's what I did. I just kept doing it. But I didn't do anything out of the ordinary."

In Ehlers' case, chemistry has also played a role in his production increase this season. Playing regularly with center Mark Scheifele (17 goals, 20 assists, 37 points) and rookie wing Patrik Laine (21 goals, 16 assists, 37 points), the line has combined for 52 goals and 110 points in the first 42 games of the season.

Video: WPG@TBL: Ehlers roofs his second of the game

That's 45.6 percent of Winnipeg's goals.

Each is in the top 20 of NHL scoring.

"What I've always thought is that when you have good chemistry off the ice, you've got [something]," Ehlers said. "That's how I feel you get good chemistry on the ice. You know each other really well.

"I'm rooming with Patrik so there's that extra chemistry. It's all about the small things and the amount of work you put into it. We talk a lot during breaks and in practice. It's communication and we want to play well every single game. We just don't want to go out there and see how it goes. We want to be on the ice to help this team win and our chemistry off the ice is a big part of it."

Laine will miss time with a concussion sustained at the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. Veteran wing Drew Stafford, who played on a line with Scheifele and Ehlers last season, will move into that spot.

"It's obviously not what you want to see," Ehlers said of Laine's injury. "You don't want to see one of your teammates go down, and not like that. So it's going to be tough. We were building some good chemistry, me, him and [Scheifele]. But that's the way it is. He's going to get better, hopefully very soon, and we'll look forward to that."

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