If there is any player in this year’s draft class that can easily sneak his way into the top five at the draft on Friday, it’s Nikolaj Ehlers of the Halifax Mooseheads. Ranked at 13 by NHL Central Scouting, Ehlers is the top prospect from the QMJHL in a class that is dominated by the OHL and WHL. At the midterm rankings, central scouting had Ehlers ranked at 22. The left winger skyrocketed his way into consideration to be one of the elite prospects in this years draft pool. The 2013-14 season was Ehlers first season of North American hockey and the transition was one that was done with ease. Ehlers was phenomenal, posting 104 points (49-55-104) in 63 games and 28 points (11-17-28) in 16 playoff games earning him the title of QMJHL Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year and Best Professional Prospect.
Born in Denmark, Ehlers’ was grew up around hockey with his father Heinz Ehlers being a professional player himself. The elder Ehlers’ was a ninth round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 1984. Despite never suiting up for an NHL game he played pro hockey around Europe in the top leagues in Sweden and Germany, before becoming a coach and moving his family to Switzerland. At age 11, Nikolaj began his new life in Switzerland and started developing the skills that make him the standout player he is today. In the 2012-13 season, Ehlers got the chance to play for Biel as a 16-year old in the Swiss-A league, the same team that locked out NHL stars, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Kane played on while they awaited their regular jobs to resume back in North America. After playing a few games of pro hockey with men, Ehlers was drafted sixth overall in the CHL Import Draft by Halifax.
The word that seems to follow Ehlers around is “dynamic”. He has incredible speed, soft hands and the ability to open a game up offensively for his team. Halifax looked to fill the void that Nathan MacKinnon left in the Mooseheads lineup when he left for the Colorado Avalanche, and Ehlers did just that. The 104 points that Ehlers scored this season ranked him fourth in QMJHL scoring, right behind his teammate and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Jonathan Drouin‘s 108 point (29-79-108) campaign. Many scouts originally thought that Ehlers’ play was made responsible by Drouin’s top-end playmaking skills, but once Ehlers was moved off of Drouin’s line, he still excelled. Scouts began changing their tune pretty quickly and although Central Scouting has him ranked outside of the top ten, many including ESPN‘s Corey Pronman and TSN‘s Craig Button have Ehlers ranked fifth and sixth overall respectively.
The team that walks away with Nikolaj Ehlers at the draft could be strolling away with one of the biggest steals of the class if developed properly. It’s no secret among scouts that Ehlers needs to put on weight. His 5’11” 163 lbs. frame may help him be a dominant force among teenagers and young men, but will not help him against grown men. It would be criminal to rush Ehlers into the NHL next season. The Danish forward will need to get bigger and stronger, not to mention prove he can carry a Halifax team without Drouin and even their top defenseman, Florida Panthers prospect, Mackenzie Weegar. It may take a year or two for Ehlers to be NHL ready, but the wait will be well worth it.
Panthers GM Dale Tallon made it no secret during his scouting trip in Halifax that Ehlers was on the Panthers radar in some capacity, even comparing him to the draft selection he made in Chicago in 2007, another year where it was looked at as a “weak draft”. That pick was Patrick Kane. The possibility of the Panthers trading down to get a winger wouldn’t come as a shock considering the offers for that number one pick could be of good value and could add a dynamic scorer to the depth chart for Florida. The Panthers lack a true goal scoring threat and the speedy forward might be the right choice for the team if they trade down. Aside from just being a goal scorer, Ehlers reads plays well, is not afraid to go into the corners and is responsible defensively as well, as he saw time on the penalty kill and also led the league with a highly impressive plus-65 rating.
A clip of Tallon talking Weegar and Ehlers (starts at 2:32)
No matter who chooses Ehlers at the draft, he is bound to find himself in the top ten. His ability to dance through defensemen and pile on points will not be ignored. Keep an eye on this prospect for a few years, even if he isn’t NHL ready just yet, when he’s ready he could explode onto the scene. The flashy Dane brings what Tallon described as “an entertainment value” and teams have to put people in the seats. Many factors contribute to a prospect’s successful transition into the NHL but if Ehler’s transition to major junior from Europe is any indication of his potential, then Ehlers very well might have a solid career in the NHL.
WEIGHT: 163 lbs.
TEAM: HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS (QMJHL)
UNIFORM NUMBER: 24
NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING RANK: #13 NORTH AMERICA
|2012-2013||Biel U20||Elite Jr. A||32||26||23||49||34|||||Relegation||2||4||0||4||2|
|Denmark U18||WJC-18 D1A||5||3||8||11||2||||
|Denmark U18 (all)||International-Jr||13||7||14||21||8||||
|Denmark U20 (all)||International-Jr||3||1||1||2||2||||
|Denmark U20||WJC-20 D1A||5||2||4||6||4||||
|Denmark U20 (all)||International-Jr||5||2||4||6||4||||
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