Nikolaj Ehlers scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season Thursday in the Jets’ 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But that wasn’t what stood out to Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice.
“Nikolaj Ehlers is a real good defensive player. He was hard on the walls, he’s physical, he was good. Nick wasn’t pure offense tonight. He scored two big goals for sure. The five-on-five is an effort goal coming off the line off a loss draw,” said Maurice. “The best part of his game was all the defensive things that he did.”
It’s the fifth straight season Ehlers has reached 20 goals.
Ehlers’ second goal of the night was the perfect example of how excellent Ehlers’ game was both defensively and offensively.
On a play that started as a defensive zone faceoff loss, Ehlers forced Mitch Marner into the neutral zone to retrieve the puck after separating him from it.
When Marner took the puck into the Maple Leafs’ defensive zone to try and escape Ehlers’ pressure, Ehlers picked his pocket and poked the puck past an unsuspecting David Rittich.
“I got a stick on it in our zone and I thought that I could skate him up and try to create a loose puck somehow. It worked out, I tried to skate as hard as I could and get my stick on the puck,” said Ehlers.
“It created a good bounce for me going towards the net and I play with pretty long sticks, that worked out for me.”
Ehlers has been one of the Jets most consistent players night in and night out. He’s tied for 13th in the league in points with 45, and is 10th in the league in goals with 20.
Good things are happening with Ehlers on the ice. His 68% GF percentage ranks sixth among skaters with at least 550 minutes of five-on-five ice time.
“The player that he’s developed into, he’s a completive guy. He’s battling on the walls, he’s winning battles, he’s throwing hits, he’s just competing to win and I think he’s having a lot of fun,” said Maurice.
“The goals are almost secondary, we know he’s going to score. His game now has evolved where you think this guys a playoff guy now. Two, three years ago he was having a hard time in that heavy environment, now he looks like he’s thriving in it.”
On Wednesday, Ehlers reached 300 career points. In doing so, he becomes just the fourth player born in Denmark to reach the 300-point mark. Ehlers trails Frans Nielsen, (473) Mikkel Bodker (327) and Lars Eller (313).
“When you watch Nicky around kids, or around fans, he’s always giving and he’s got time for people,” said Maurice. “10 years from now when he may become the highest scoring Danish player, he’s going to be a figurehead of the sport in that country and he’s going to be able to do so much for young people there.”
Ehlers is not slowing down anytime soon, and as strange as this sounds for a guy with six years’ experience in the league, he’s only getting started when it comes to building his all-around game.
Ehlers has grown into a tremendous representation of his country.
"It means a lot to me to be that guy," said Ehlers. "I don't feel like I'm that young guy anymore. I was looking up to guys like Frans Nielsen, Peter Regin and Jannik Hansen. To be one of those guys now for a small hockey country like Denmark is pretty special."