Last fall's NHL lockout did Nikolaj Ehlers a big favour.
The nimble newcomer for the Halifax Mooseheads counted Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin as teammates while playing for Biel in the Swiss A league. Seeing the example set by the two established big leaguers prodded Ehlers to pursue his NHL ambitions in North America.
"They were really nice, they were good people, they were unbelievable good hockey players," says Ehlers, a native of Aalborg, Denmark, who spent six years of his adolescence in Switzerland after his father Heinz Ehlers' coaching career required a move. "It helped me a lot to improve by seeing them and learning from them. They were helpful to me. They kind of said to me, too, that I had to come over. It was definitely my decision, but they were a part of it."
The Mooseheads, of late, have been getting more queries from NHL scouts about Ehlers. The Dane's eight goals and 23 points in 20 games lead Quebec League rookies. (His shooting percentage is 10.4 per cent, suggesting he's on a very sustainable course.) It's early yet, but Ehlers has shown a refined skill set, not surprising for someone who played in a men's league at age 16.
"It went faster than I thought," Ehlers says of his adjustment from the European to the North American game. "I thought I would need a bit more time."
Ehlers' NHL draft stock appears to be rising. It helps that Ehlers, in keeping for someone who can converse in Danish, English, French, German, French, Swedish and Swiss-German, is intuitive by nature.
"He's a smart hockey player who knows and understands what we talk about," Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme says. "The little things, the little details, he learns them fast. He's a great addition to our team.
"He's very versatile. With most players you can identify one special quality. With him, it's agility, speed, the way he shoots the puck, his hands, quickness."
Ehlers (pronounced EEL-ers) has been getting premium minutes, playing first-unit power play and taking a wing alongside Tampa Bay Lightning first-rounder Jonathan Drouin. Being a teammate of one of major junior's most creative players is a big part of Ehlers' learning curve.
"Playing with Jo, he' seeing ways to be able to find solutions," Ducharme says. "Things that you can do and things that you can't do or try."
1. Which NHL player(s) do you study closely, since their game is similar to what you aspire to?
"I've been hearing that I play a little bit like Peter Forsberg. I played with Kane and Seguin last year and they were amazing to watch. Kane is definitely someone who's exciting to watch every game. There's so many good players in the NHL."
2. Growing up as the son of a coach, did you sense pressure to be a good hockey player?
"It wasn't pressure at all. I think it was great. It's good that you have a dad who's a hockey coach and have the support from someone who knows hockey."
3. If hockey was not in the picture, what sport do you think might like pursuing?
"I played soccer at the national team level until I was 14. I kind of had to choose between soccer and hockey. But my father, brother [Sebastian], my cousins all played hockey. So it really wasn't a big thing. I knew that I wanted to play hockey."
4. Which road arena in the QMJHL have you most enjoyed playing in?
"All of them are pretty nice and they're new. I was in Quebec [Le Colisée] four years ago [for the international peewee tournament] with a Swiss team so that was definitely an amazing experience."
5. Since this is Halloween week, what's your favourite unhealthy food?
"I don't eat a lot of that stuff, actually, but I would say Swiss chocolate is probably one of the good things. But that's also because I lived there. Everyone in Switzerland loves chocolate and cheese."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.