“We don’t have a sniper. We need somebody who can score.”
There’s a big misconception that there aren’t any wingers worthy of being selected at the top of this years draft. Most hockey pundits and armchair GM’s (it takes one to know one) have penciled in defenseman Aaron Ekblad as the sure-fire first overall pick.
Although Ekblad is a great prospect and would do wonders for their blueline down the road, the Florida Panthers are still waiting for Erik Gudbranson and Dmitri Kulikov to grow into the defensemen they were drafted to become. Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon has drafted plenty of defenseman bound to rear their heads in the NHL during the next few seasons.
Mike Matheson is likely to make the leap from college into the Panthers dressing room next season, and Tallon is on the record saying Halifax Mooseheads defenseman Mackenzie Weegar will quarterback the Panthers power play for years to come.
But since Panthers fans haven’t seen these defenseman play at the NHL level yet, it’s understandable that they’d think picking Ekblad is a no-brainer.
But decisions shouldn’t be made without brains!
Up next in the pecking order you’ll find two centermen, two Sam’s, Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett, projected to fill out the 2nd and 3rd spots of the first round.
“Reinhart’s hockey sense is off the charts. He’s a tremendous playmaker who can dictate the tempo of a game, he’s an advanced two-way player who makes plays in every situation”, Corey Pronman wrote in his NHL 2014 draft report.
Hey, that sounds like Barkov.
The Panthers plugged that organizational need when they selected Barkov in last years draft.
Neither Reinhart nor Bennett stand a chance at dethroning Barkov nor Bjugstad from centering the top two lines anyway, as Tallon wants SIZE down the middle. Sure, we could convert one of them to wing, and I wouldn’t mind seeing either of them next to Barkov or Bjugstad at all (especially Bennet), but both Sam’s are playmakers more than they are high caliber goal scorers. The Panthers already have playmakers in Huberdeau and Barkov, and like Tallon said…
“We need a sniper. We need somebody who can score.”
Well ladies and gentlemen, that dangerous sniper is here. He’s dangerous as all hell on the ice and a gift from the hockey gods.
His name is Nicolaj Ehlers.
Ehlers (pronounced; ‘EEL-ers’) is a high scoring winger with blazing speed from Denmark who plays for the Halifax Mooseheads. Even though I know he’s from Denmark, I still think he came out of nowhere, because the numbers he’s putting up are insane.
And the fact that he hasn’t even cracked the top ten list for some draft rankings boggles my mind. After the season he’s had I don’t know what else he could possibly do to get there in this “weak draft year”. For this post, I’ve culled information from a ton of great articles online (I invite you to click on every single one of them) and mixed them all together for my sake and for yours, because I think the Panthers should seriously consider picking Nikolaj Ehlers with the first overall pick and I want to explain why we shouldn’t overlook him.
Ehlers won the rookie scoring title in the QMJHL this year and it wasn’t even close. He’s also 4th in scoring overall, and the only rookie in the top 20. Ehlers possesses all the tools to become an absolute game changer in the NHL someday. He’s putting together the résumé to prove it, too.
Watch Ehlers capture the scoring title:
I know we can’t only judge a hockey players value by looking at stats, they don’t even quantify assets like speed, something Ehlers has plenty of, but you can’t ignore stats either…especially when they’re more impressive than the guys shoes he’s filling in Halifax.
With Nathan MacKinnon being only 1 year removed from his former Mooseheads team in the QMJHL, I couldn’t find a better player or situation to compare stats against when trying to project Ehlers value or pontificate how his game might translate at the NHL level.
Glancing over these stats raised my eyebrows quite a bit:
- MacKinnon Rookie Season w Mooseheads : GP 58 / G 31/ A 47 / PTS 78 / +11 / 1.3 PPG
- MacKinnon Sophomore Season w Mooseheads: GP 44 / G 32 /A 43 / PTS 75 / +40 / 1.7 PPG
- Nikolaj Ehlers Rookie Season w Mooseheads: GP 63 / G 49 / A 55 / PTS 105 / +65 / 1.6PPG
*It’s also worth noting that Ehlers scored a majority of his points and played on a separate line than Drouin.
Plenty of fans in Halifax have been comparing Ehlers to MacKinnon all year long, and when it comes to scoring and sheer offensive dominance in the QMJHL, the numbers reveal Ehlers to be the more dominant player. Perhaps it’s just as remarkable, that as far as the footrace is concerned, believe it or not, Ehlers is allegedly a faster skater than MacKinnon too.
Maybe that’s why the flying dark horse from Denmark, the fan favorite, with nicknames like “the Dashing Dane” and “the Electric Ehl”, has been flying under the radar all season? He’s just too fast. He’s got that – now you see him now you don’t – kinda speed that the hockey Gods shine on only a few men every generation.
But it’s not only the speed, nor the numbers, it’s also the environment he grew out of which separates Ehlers from guys like Ekblad. Rather than being a man playing among children, Ehlers, like the Florida Panthers beloved Aleksander Barkov, grew up as a boy playing hockey among men.
And like Barkov, he demolished them.
“He hails from Denmark and played in the Swiss Men’s League in Biel posting strong numbers like 12 points in 2 games and 8 points in 2 games at the age of 14. He is by far the fastest player in the draft which sets him apart by a huge margin. He’s had his speed compared to that of Pavel Bure and his style of offensive play compared to Peter Forsberg – something which scouts may well use to further back their opinions of Ehlers as being one of the most dynamic players in this year’s draft.” – Curtis Joe
Maybe the reason he was so far off scouts lists as top ten material was because this type of meteoric rise wasn’t supposed to happen to the dane from Denmark. With a smaller rink size and the culture shock, this was supposed to be a transitional season for Ehlers as he needed time to acclimate to Canada from Europe. But if his numbers are indicative of anything they’re suggesting he’s pretty comfortable now. If you track his point totals they’ve been skyrocketing for months, and the progress he’s making is why I think he’s separating himself from all the rest of the kids in the upcoming draft.
“One other interesting aspect to Ehlers’s season is that his points-per-game gradually increased over the course of the season. One possible narrative is that Ehlers needed time to adjust to the QMJHL. There may be something to that. No other player on this chart saw such a drastic increase in points-per-game the 2nd half of his pre-draft season as Ehlers.” - Please check out the rest of this great post from lighthousehockey.com so you can see the other studs Ehlers stats are being compared to.
I see something special in Halifax Mooseheads rookie Nicolaj Ehlers. When they were teammates, Patrick Kane must have seen something special in him too. Ehlers was fortunate enough call Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin teammates while playing for Biel in the Swiss A league in Europe during the most recent lockout, and they played a role in convincing Ehlers to move to Canada for a chance to be drafted into the NHL.
But that’s not where the Ehlers and Patrick Kane connection ends. Ehlers also been drawing comparisons to Kane from Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who famously drafted Kane first overall when he was projected by many scouts to go fourth in 2007.
“Yeah really impressed with him. Tremendous speed.” Tallon said. ” I see a little Patrick Kane in him, he’s maybe a little quicker. He’s an exciting player to watch with his explosiveness. He’s a great skater. I don’t think there’s a better skater in the draft”.
In the NHL if you scored 50 goals this year you were chastised for not playing defense. Although Ehlers was 1 goal shy of 50 in the QMJHL, he’s shown zero attitude problems when it comes to playing defense. In fact, he excels in that role as one of the Mooseheads best penalty killers. By all reports, Ehlers plays more of a North American style 200 ft game than most Europeans do when they make the transition to Canada.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. His league leading and ridiculously high +65 speaks for itself.
The only knock on Ehlers that I am aware of is that at 6″0′ and 163lbs he is undersized for the NHL right now. But like Patrick Kane, he’s not afraid to go in the tall trees and fight for the puck. Also, being skinny hasn’t caused him to miss any games due to injury either. The kid’s tough.
Besides, if there’s no reason to take him other than his weight, what a better place to bring him than to America, home of the hamburger, where obesity rates fly through the clinic as fast as happy meals from drive-through windows?
Putting on weight is no surprise for the young 18 year old either, he’s already working on it.
“I’ve been working out with the team and working out alone. I’m trying to gain weight right now. I know I need to gain some weight to play in the NHL and that’s my goal. I’m at 163 lbs and I would like to be at about 185 or 190. I think that would be a good size for a player like me” he acknowledged in a recent interview with Dan Robertson.
If you told me I could eat my way to an NHL contract I’d already be dining at that million dollar bash.
But even if his weight means he’s two years away, the Panthers have $30 million dollars to spend on someone to keep his spot warm for the next couple of seasons while he bulks up and continues to light up the QMJHL. By the time Ehlers makes his way to the big leagues, he could be brought into a much better situation than Barkov, Huberdeau and Bjugstad were brought into.
He’ll also have a more seasoned Barkov or Bjugstad to help him find his way. I can already imagine those two guys fighting to have him on their line. And Ehlers would be a perfect candidate for either of them because he loves playing with big guys who can open up the ice for him.
“Ehlers also has found a natural fit with line mates Brent Andrews and Andrew Ryan. “We have a great chemistry together”, he says. “They’re two big guys and they give me some time and space to do what I can to get some points for the team. I think it’s great playing with them.”
And if the timing is right, in 1-2 years Ehlers could be an instrumental addition to the Panthers lineup as they make a push for a deep playoff run and try to forge that perfect storm of players to really carry them all the way to the Stanley Cup.
Dale Tallon knows more than anyone that the Florida Panthers are missing a high-scoring, speedy right winger in their ever increasing prospect pool. The Panthers just don’t have the same kind of depth on right wing they have on the blue line and at the center position. Although Ehlers is listed as LW, if you scour his footage online, you’ll find that almost all the footage of him is scoring and attacking from the RW.
If the Panthers are looking for a speedy, high scoring, dynamic winger who can play on the RW and score a ton of goals with Barkov or Bjugstad and Huberdeau for years to come, I think Nicolaj Ehlers has the best chance out of anyone in this draft to fulfill that role. Ehlers would also allow the Florida Panthers to bring in a little bit of that magic they missed out on by not drafting MacKinnon or Drouin last year…maybe even a little more.
He’d also bring that speed and electricity onto the ice Panthers fans haven’t seen since the days of Pavel Bure. Last month Ehlers scored 17 goals in eight games, with hat tricks in three straight games. If that’s not the sniper the Panthers need in their lineup or the kind of player worthy of taking number 1 overall, or the kind of guy the Panthers marketing department is drooling over, I don’t know who is.
On a year where there “isn’t a consensus number 1 overall pick”, I think if Dale Tallon “takes a chance” on anybody, it’s got to be on the Electric Ehl.
Dale Tallon on Ehlers potentially being drafted top 5: “Why not? I’m willing to take some chances. We took a chance with Kane first overall. We have a great young nucleus of centers now and tremendous depth on the blue line and up the middle and for us moving forward. We need to add skill speed and grit on the wing.”
He’s the dark horse, but I’d bet all my money on Ehlers for the races in the long run. But at the end of the day I’m not the one holding the chips in this poker game. And maybe people are right and you can’t trust a thing a GM says anyway, especially one like Tallon. But boy am I glad to see Dale Tallon talking about Ehlers.
Check out Panthers GM Dale Tallon talk about Ehlers, Weegar, and Huberdeau.
If you’d like to talk more about it leave me a comment below or shoot me a message on twitter @cats2thecup