Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers on quick start: ‘I feel I’ve taken a big step’

Winnipeg Jets left wing Nikolaj Ehlers, of Denmark, celebrates after scoring a goal on the New Jersey Devils during the first period of an NHL game, Tuesday, March 28, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)

The Winnipeg Jets offered up hockey fans a bevy of highlight-reel tallies from a certain European scoring phenom last season, continuing their steady ascent up the rankings on the back of their young sniper. But while it was Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele leading the charge last season, it’s been Nikolaj Ehlers carrying the mail through the early goings of 2017-18.

Fresh off a career-high 25-goal, 64-point effort, Ehlers has upped the ante thus far this season, posting a team-leading five goals and seven points through Winnipeg’s first six games this year.

“I feel I’ve taken a big step,” Ehlers told IIHF.com’s Lucas Aykroyd on Tuesday. “I’ve just got to be more consistent and put that into my game. I feel calmer with the puck, and I feel faster. I feel more experienced. And overall, defensively, I’ve taken a big step. It’s something that I’m still working on. It’s something I’ll work on till I retire.”

The 21-year-old Dane echoed a similar sentiment in regards to what his club needs to work on in order to take the next step as well.

“Consistency,” Ehlers said. “Keeping this group together. Playing as a team. Playing the game we want to play. Sticking to our systems. We’ve worked hard the last two years to get to where we are right now. Consistency is key for us. We know we can do it. We believe in ourselves. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”

While Ehlers has his mind on the NHL at the moment, he’s keeping close tabs on the Danish national team as well, as his country is set to host the 2018 IIHF World Championship in May. With seven Danish skaters plying their trade in the NHL this season – Ehlers, Frederik Andersen, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Lars Eller, Frans Nielsen, Mikkel Boedker and Jannik Hansen – the Jets star said Denmark is on the rise among hockey nations.

“They’ve been working really hard overall in junior, producing new young players,” Ehlers said. “The coaches are getting smarter. We’re getting coaches from the U.S. and Canada coming over and coaching the elite pro teams. And we’ve got a lot of young guys playing in the best league in Denmark. So it’s amazing the big step we’ve taken and how many NHL players a small country like Denmark has produced.”

Ehlers has close ties to the national team, not only because he’s currently the top Danish skater in the big leagues, but also because his father Heinz was tabbed to serve as an assistant coach for the 2018 tournament.

“It’s awesome,” Ehlers told Aykroyd. “If we were going to end up being at the world championship together, I know the kind of coach he is. I know the kind of father he is. He’s great at both roles.

“He’s going to bring in some modern hockey, so I think it’ll be a good step for Danish hockey.”