WINNIPEG – Hockey and high fashion aren’t exactly kissing cousins so it’s probably no surprise Nikolaj Ehlers isn’t trying to lose weight to make the Winnipeg Jets.
“I want to put on some pounds, eat a lot,” their No. 1 2014 draft pick said as the team’s development camp opened Monday, with close to 40 of the team’s young prospects in town for a week.
Fluent in English as well as a couple of other languages besides his native Danish, Ehlers is just 18 and may be a little small at five foot 11 and 163 pounds, but he’s coming off an impressive rookie year in North America.
The left-winger scored 49 goals and added 55 assists for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. His 104 points ranked him fourth in league scoring and he was also part of Denmark’s under-20 team.
A packed practice arena Monday gave him a good idea of what to expect if he makes the NHL, a marked change from Denmark where he says hockey has been in a funk, although he suggests it may be getting a little more attention lately.
“When I practise at home, there’s nobody there,” he said. “Coming out here and seeing all these people, it’s pretty amazing.”
Ehlers said he wasn’t trying to do anything special to impress the team’s coaches this week.
“I don’t think that I have to impress anyone. I think I’m going to go out and play my game. That’s what I did all year. That’s why I’m here now.”
Jimmy Roy, the Jets co-ordinator of player development, couldn’t agree more and says that’s not what this week is about.
“Its about them off the ice, on the ice, meeting them as people, getting to understand them a little bit, them understanding us,” he said.
Once they’re evaluated, he says the Jets staff will try to give some direction on what they need to do “to turn the boy strength into man strength and prepare them for the National Hockey League.”
Some players couldn’t come because of U.S. college rules. Others are being given a pass because they’ve already had a hectic spring and summer, like defenceman Josh Morrissey, who got called up from the WHL to help the St. John’s IceCaps during their AHL Calder Cup run and is now getting ready for Canada’s junior camp.
As for Roy’s take on Ehlers, it’s early but he likes what he sees.
“He’s pretty quick, he’s pretty smart,” he said.
The Jets have half a dozen of their 2014 draft picks in camp, including California native Chase De Leo, who is joining friend and fellow Californian Eric Comrie. Comrie also got called up briefly by the Jets’ AHL farm team last season.
“It was cool putting on all of the gear, I was pretty excited,” said De Leo, who was selected by the Jets in the fourth round, 99th overall.
He’s another left-winger who isn’t bringing a lot of size to the game but in his third season with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, he scored 39 goals and added 42 assists. That’s twice as many goals as he scored in 2012-13.
The Jets also have 2012 fifth-round pick Connor Hellebuyck in camp. At 21, the six-foot-four 200-pound goaltender has already taken the first big step towards his NHL career.
He surrendered his final two seasons of college eligibility to sign a three-year, two-way entry-level contract with the Jets this spring and is expected to see action in St. John’s.