What is going on with Winnipeg Jets speedster Nikolai Ehlers?

Winnipeg Jets, Nikolai Ehlers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Winnipeg Jets, Nikolai Ehlers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

For the second time this season, the Winnipeg Jets lost to the worst team in the league. Although they outshot the Blue Jackets 38-24 and narrowly won the Expected Goal battle – they failed to convert numerous power play opportunities en route to a 3-1 defeat.

Nikolai Ehlers played 14:40 minutes in this contest – 6th most amongst Jets forwards. Since resuming play following the All-Star break, Ehlers has averaged a paltry 14:28 in ice time, behind recently returned Mason Appleton. Ehlers has also been relegated to the second power play unit – a group that is regularly tossed 30 seconds of leftover playing time near the tail end of a man advantage.

Coach Bones has publicly stated that both Ehlers and Perfetti will be sparingly used in tight games:

When asked about Ehlers’ limited ice time against the Blue Jackets, Bones indicated that:

“We were trying to get him out there, but there were just too many penalties to get a regular flow of our lines” – Winnipeg Jets Rick Bowness

This feels like deja-vu all over again. Under Paul Maurice, Jets fans continually lamented his usage -specifically on the power play. So, what is going on? How have 2 coaching regimes determined that Ehlers is best used thriftily? Is there smoke to this fire?

Any statistical analysis supports that Ehlers is an elite driver of play:

The Jets struggle with controlled entries into the offensive zone – but guess who leads them in this category as well? Take bow @GarretHohl:

Ehlers is clearly the leader in controlled zone entries. Also, statistically, the Jets are just better with him on the PP1:

The common refrain against Ehlers is his lack of defensive presence and his proclivity for giveaways. Let’s start with the latter. Last year, Ehlers was 6th on the Jets in giveaways per game (Logan Stanley was first), and 2nd amongst forwards (Scheifele was first). This year he is 8th overall in giveaways per game and 2nd again for forwards (PLD is first). While not great, his turnover rate is not above what you would expect for a player with his usage rate while on the ice.

The defensive concerns are real, but again (statistically anyway) his offensive prowess far exceeds the lack of shutdown defensive ability. Quite honestly, and comparatively, Connor, PLD, Wheeler and Scheifele all struggle in this regard. This is not unique to Ehlers, and his contributions on the defensive end eclipse the right-winger the Jets seem to prefer – Blake Wheeler.

I think what might be happening here is ‘ol fashioned availability bias. Nik Ehlers plays high-event hockey, and when a mistake is made, it is usually a result of him “doing too much”. A failed no-look pass garners more attention than a guy simply losing the puck in his skates. Yet, both result equally in lost puck possession. When coaches make decisions, they usually make them in real-time, and those types of mistakes sit atop the memory Rolodex. It’s just a theory, but I think Ehlers suffers as a result.

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Whatever the reason, in order for the Jets to make any sort of playoff push, Ehlers needs to be playing more than 14 minutes a night, and he needs to reclaim his spot on the first powerplay. The Danish word for foolish is tåbelig – don’t be tåbelig Winnipeg Jets.