Just over six weeks of watching and waiting to get back in the Winnipeg Jets‘ lineup appears to have come to an end for Nikolaj Ehlers.
And just in time for Friday’s 7 p.m. faceoff at Canada Life Centre versus the Central Division rival Dallas Stars, who hold a six-point lead and have a game in hand on Winnipeg for the No. 2 wild card playoff berth in the NHL Western Conference standings.
“Now it’s a coaching decision,” Ehlers said following Thursday’s practice. “I told him I’m ready to go, and I talked about that with the medical staff as well. We kind of had a plan in the last week to have that aim for next game and I feel ready for that.”
The Dashing Dane, who has 13 goals and 25 points in 34 games, was injured in the third period of the Jets’ eventual 4-3 overtime loss at Washington on Jan. 18 following a knee-on-knee collision with Capitals defenceman Dmitri Orlov.
Ehlers managed to skate back to the bench on his own and was clearly livid with the hit before heading back to the dressing room.
“I did feel that something wasn’t right, but I skated out by myself and actually felt I was going to be fine,” said the 26-year-old forward, who had missed the game before in Detroit after being placed in COVID-19 protocol. “But when I stood up the second time out at the bench, it did not feel good.”
And the left knee injury, which Ehlers declined to provide any details on, did not turn out well either, forcing him to miss 19 games. So while the seventh-year veteran confirmed that Orlov did apologize via a text message for the hit — which went unpenalized by the on-ice officials — that didn’t ease the burden of missing almost a quarter of the schedule.
“I mean, he went in there, fully knowing he was going to go for my knee. So does it help a lot? No, I was out for six weeks and he was out for three days,” said Ehlers in reference to the two-game suspension Orlov received from the NHL Department of Player Safety.
Andrew Copp returned from a six-game absence and scored the winning goal in Tuesday’s wild 8-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, so that will certainly provide interim head coach Dave Lowry with a few more options in going forward.
“When you bring your top players and put them in your lineup, obviously it makes you a better team,” was Lowry’s answer when asked what kind of impact the addition of Copp, and now Ehlers, could have on the hockey club.
“Both of these guys have missed periods of time and there probably will be some hiccups. But expectation is that he’s ready to play. Copper came in and gave us a real strong game. And we probably expect the same.”