PENTICTON, B.C. — Nikolaj Ehlers has every intention of playing in the NHL this season. It’s up to him to show he deserves one of the jobs available with the Winnipeg Jets.
After attending training camp with the club last season, the slick Danish winger dominated junior hockey in 2014-15, scoring 37 goals and 64 assists in 51 games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL before adding a ridiculous 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists) in just 14 playoff games.
“I feel ready,” the 19-year-old Ehlers said recently on his NHL hopes. “I’ve been working to get better the past two years and be able to get a good chance to make the team.”
Selected ninth overall at the 2014 draft, Ehlers is part of the Jets’ roster of prospects currently taking part in the Young Stars tournament, a four-team showcase that also includes rookies from the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
“I worked on a lot of small details this year and this summer — getting bigger, getting faster, stronger,” said Ehlers, who also attended last year’s tournament. “I feel like I did that pretty well. That’s an advantage for me. I’m going to try to use my abilities, what I do best and see.”
The Jets should have some openings at forward when their main camp opens next week after Michael Frolik inked a deal with Calgary this off-season and Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak weren’t re-signed.
“I see an opportunity and I’m going to do everything I can to grab that chance,” said Ehlers. “It’s going to be tough, but I’m ready for it.”
The CHL rookie of the year in 2014, Ehlers said he doesn’t see much value in returning to junior. He’s also too young to play in the AHL, but Europe could be an option if he isn’t able earn a spot with the Jets.
“I don’t have any other plans than playing in the NHL this year,” said Ehlers. “It’s what my focus is on and it’s going to stay like that until they say otherwise. I’m excited to start this season and looking forward to it.”
Another prospect looking to make an impact at training camp will be defenceman Josh Morrissey, who is in his third rookie tournament. Unlike Ehlers, the 20-year-old from Calgary is eligible to play in the AHL if he doesn’t break camp with the Jets, but he said it’s his job to make the decision a difficult one.
“I’ve never seen anyone go in there and just have a spot given to them in any capacity,” said Morrissey, the 13th overall pick in 2013. “You have to put in the work and earn that position. I’m excited to go in and do that. All you want as a player is an opportunity to go in and earn a position and know that the ball’s in your court.”
Ehlers knows the ball is also in his court, and he got a first-hand glimpse of what playing in Winnipeg is like when the games matter. After the Mooseheads were eliminated from their post-season, Ehlers hopped on a plane and got to MTS Centre in time to catch Game 4 of the Jets’ first-round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks.
Despite the disappointing result, it got Ehlers excited for the future.
“You were sitting in the stands and just thinking ‘I want to be out there,'” he said. “It was amazing. It gives me motivation to really go out there and just work my ass off and make the team this year.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press