Off-Season Targets: Nikolaj Ehlers

Off-Season Targets: Nikolaj Ehlers

Oilers

Off-Season Targets: Nikolaj Ehlers

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The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers are both at different stages. The Jets expect to compete for Stanley Cup next season, while the Oilers are hoping to just compete for a playoff spot and hopefully squeak into the dance. Even though both teams are in different spots, they are a perfect match for a trade this summer.

The Jets need defense and cap relief, while the Oilers need forwards to fill out the depth chart behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Edmonton has depth on the blueline while Winnipeg’s forward group is relatively stacked. You can do the math.

After a down season, sniper Nikolaj Ehlers could be a perfect target for Edmonton. Would Winnipeg trade him?

Why Is He Out There?:

The Jets are officially in cap hell. Winnipeg has $62,480,833 committed to the roster next season with decisions still to be made. Tyler Myers is a UFA, while Jacob Trouba is an RFA and very likely will be traded before July 1st. Ben Chiarot is also a UFA and due for a raise, while Nathan Beaulieu is an RFA.

Up front, the Jets have already dealt the rights to Kevin Hayes. They still have pending free agents Brandon Tanev, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp to deal with as well.

If they want to retain most of their team and make improvements, some money needs to go out. Ehlers, who makes $6,000,000 per year through the 2024-25 season, is a prime candidate to be dealt.

What Does He Do Well?:

Ehlers is a goal scorer, plain and simple. He struggled this past season with just 37 points, but did manage to score 21 goals while shooting 13.3%. It was the third season in a row that Ehlers hit the 20 goal mark. He scored 25 in 2016-17 and 29 in 2017-18.

In terms of possession, Ehlers was a positive for the Jets. He posted a Corsi For five-on-five of 51.6%, which was positive to his teammates. Ehlers finished with a Corsi For Rel of +3% and a Fenwick For Rel of +3%. He posted a 51.6% Fenwick For at five-on-five, and finished with a PDO of 100.2.

(All stats via hockey-reference)

Ehlers provides speed, skill and goal scoring ability at a top-six level. For the Oilers, those are all skills that are lacking from the roster. Edmonton was far too slow a season ago and desperately needs to generate more goals at five-on-five. Ehlers scored 19 goals at even strength a season ago.

Here’s a look at his scouting report via The Sports Forecaster.

Assets:

Is supremely skilled and talented with the puck, able to create plays and finish all on his own. Also has a knack for making his linemates better players. Can play either wing position.

Flaws:

A lack of size (6-0, 172 pounds) is at the root of his issues, so he must add more strength in order to better handle big NHL defenders (and also to maximize his scoring potential).

Career Potential:

Talented, highly-skilled scoring winger with upside.

Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:

Ehlers is a proven top-six forward in the NHL, and I think has the capability of playing on the top line. A sniper of his caliber could, and maybe even should, score 30 goals with a set-up man like Connor McDavid.

Although Ehlers is probably best suited as a high-level second liner, I think he’d come to Edmonton and be the team’s second best winger behind only Leon Draisaitl.

What Will He Cost?:

Ehlers, as mentioned above, carries a $6,000,000 cap hit for another six seasons. Acquiring him isn’t a short-term addition, it’s an investment for now and the future. In some ways that is ideal. As for a trade package, the Jets are going to need future assets that can give them cap relief and perhaps some production.

Jim Matheson suggested a Jesse Puljujarvi, Ethan Bear and the 38th overall offer to Winnipeg for Ehlers. I’m pretty confident that I’d pull the trigger on that deal. Ehlers is a proven player, while Puljujarvi is a question mark. Edmonton has the depth to deal with the loss of Bear as well.

Closing Argument:

If Ken Holland wants to make a splash up front, and I think he does, then Nikolaj Ehlers might be the perfect guy to target. He’d be a substantial addition for the 2019-20 team but would also represent a long-term core piece. That’s a win-win for Edmonton and would help accomplish both of Holland’s goals for this organization.

It could be costly, but the Oilers should be targeting Ehlers as the Jets desperately try and shed cap in the coming weeks.

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