Two possible trade destinations for Winnipeg Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers

Winnipeg Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

Nikolaj Ehlers has never scored 30 goals in a season.

It’s one of those things that, at least from afar, kind of catches you off guard.

The speedy Dane has looked like such a dangerous scoring winger at times during a decade-long career that it just feels like there should be a 36 and a 33 somewhere in that Hockey Reference goal column.

He’s certainly come close, notching 29 goals in his age-21 season as a third-year NHLer who appeared on his way to becoming — at worst — a regular 35-goal man. Of course, he also buried the biscuit at a 37-goal pace in both the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign (21 goals in 47 games) and the next season, an injury-plagued showing in 2021-22 when he netted 28 in 62.

Both the injuries and that gnawing sense there could always be a little bit more production with Ehlers are factors to consider as we contemplate where this player — with one year remaining on his contract — might skate next year if, as all indications seem to be, there isn’t an extension to be worked out in Winnipeg.

Then again, how easy will it be for teams in need of scoring to look at those tantalizing stretches of Ehlers’ career and wonder if a guy who is still entering just his age-28 season could put it (and keep it) all together in a new location — especially if signing to stick around that new burgh for the next half-decade or so is part of the equation?

If Ehlers’ time on the only team he’s ever known is limited, no shortage of clubs will be calling the Jets to get a handle on what it would take to land him. Here, then, is our shot at a couple deals that could kick off the next chapter of Ehlers’ career.

Winnipeg receives

F Josh Anderson

D Jayden Struble

D Justin Barron

F Owen Beck

Carolina’s 2024 second-round pick

Carolina receives

F Nikolaj Ehlers

D Jordan Harris

26th overall pick from Montreal, previously acquired from Winnipeg

Montreal receives

F Martin Necas

Why the Jets do it: There’s no one fantastic piece coming back, but if things break the right way you could conceivably fill a lot of holes. Anderson is coming off a positively miserable year and you could argue Montreal would need to pay somebody to take the three years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $5.5 million per season. But this is a fast power forward hockey executives might find hard to quit and Winnipeg has historically embraced acquiring guys with a little term. Anderson, who just turned 30 in May, has had trouble staying healthy, but he was basically a 20-goal guy in a six-foot-three banger’s frame the two previous seasons before this past one. 

Jayden Struble is a bull-strong defenceman who moves well and showed real NHL potential as a rookie this year, while Justin Barron is a coveted right-shot D-man who’s flashed decent NHL stretches. Put the 2020 first-rounder on a team with his brother, Morgan, and hope he finds his best self at the still-young age of 22. 

Owen Beck is coming off an MVP showing at the Memorial Cup and screams valuable pro. If the Jets are lucky, he might become a top-sixer after a little seasoning. 

Why the Hurricanes do it: Carolina is perpetually in need of scoring and Ehlers could provide that. After some ups and downs in Manitoba, you have to think Ehlers — if things go well in Raleigh — would seriously consider putting down roots in a quiet, warm locale with a solid squad.

Jordan Harris’s name may not jump off the page, but he’s shown himself to be a very smart D-man in Montreal who can basically be trusted in all situations. His floor is that of an overqualified third-pair guy who can play both sides of the rink and his ceiling is ultra-reliable No. 4 guy on a competitive squad. 

Carolina would also now hold the 26th and 27th selections in the draft; perhaps it could bundle them and move up the board to select an enticing prospect. 

Why the Canadiens do it: It’s a lot going out the door from Montreal, but nothing that feels like a back-breaker. Montreal is loaded with young defence and blue line prospects, so losing three young D-men with NHL experience — even one as sturdy as Harris — is palatable. Beck is a great prospect, but the Canadiens are bringing in a 25-year-old, in Necas, who would eat up a top-six slot for the next half-decade, at least. 

The Canadiens have a lot of quality young pieces; if their rebuild lacks something it’s high-end talent and Necas possesses that. 

Winnipeg receives

Utah’s 2025 first-round pick, top-five protected

Utah’s 2025 second-round pick

Florida’s 2024 second-round pick, previously acquired by Utah

Utah receives

F Nikolaj Ehlers

Why the Jets do it: It’s a bit of a kick-the-can play; acquire draft futures that can be turned into bodies down the road. Winnipeg isn’t typically a free-agent destination for top-end talent, but there are a number of workmanlike UFA defencemen available this year the Jets could pursue. Try to bolster the blue with Ehlers’ $6 million cap hit off the books and liquidate the Utah picks (or don’t) before the 2025 deadline as you see fit.

Why Utah does it: Because it literally has 10 second-round picks from 2024 to ’26. Surely the plan all along — whether in the desert or mountains — was to turn many of those into bodies and the time has come. Bring a new player with goal-scoring chops to your new market, hope he thrives and maybe the fit works long-term.

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