Winnipeg, the city, isn’t exactly known for its luxuries. Matter of fact, according to a few San Jose Sharks last season, you would be lucky to get some sunshine, half-decent cell service and a wireless internet connection in Manitoba’s capital.
But Winnipeg, the team, is living life lavishly. So lavishly that the Jets let what most would call a top-tier second-line center, Paul Stastny, leave town as a free agent to sign with not only a conference rival but the very same team that ousted them from the Western Conference final, the Vegas Golden Knights, without breaking so much as a sweat. And for that, the Jets have Jack Roslovic to thank.
No doubt, Stastny’s shoes are sizeable ones to fill. He was a deadline acquisition who nearly put Winnipeg over the top in its quest to parade the Stanley Cup down to Portage and Main. In Roslovic, though, the Jets may have a fit for the Stastny-shaped hole that now resides on the second line between speedster Nikolaj Ehlers and sharpshooter Patrik Laine. Roslovic doesn’t quite see it that way, however, even if it is Stastny’s old job he’s chasing. “I’m going out there to be myself,” Roslovic said. “I can’t replace what Paul Stastny did and does. On the other hand, he can’t replace what I do, too.”
What stands out about Roslovic, 21, and what he confidently calls his greatest asset, is his blazing speed. There were moments he flashed his wheels during his cup of coffee with the Jets last season – he played sparingly in 31 regular-season games and 10 post-season contests – but one particularly eye-popping end-to-end rush this pre-season against the Edmonton Oilers left the mouths of an entire fan base watering.
Roslovic, selected 25th overall by the Jets in 2015, has game-breaking quickness, the kind that makes him a weapon no matter where he picks up the puck. “Some guys are as fast with the puck as they are without the puck – you think of Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor,” said Manitoba Moose coach Pascal Vincent, who has watched over Roslovic’s development the past two seasons in the AHL. “Jack Roslovic is one of those guys. He has the ability to not slow down with the puck.”
Don’t mistake Roslovic’s breakneck speed for a purely north-south game, either. Vincent praised the elusiveness Roslovic displayed during his time in the AHL, the way he could cut back to find space, escape pressure in no more than a few strides or explode into a hole to turn something into nothing, a quality most successful scorers boast.
And while Vincent is hesitant to liken Roslovic to any other player, just as Roslovic himself was reticent about comparisons to Stastny, Jets coach Paul Maurice isn’t afraid to draw a bold parallel. “Mark Scheifele can play this game a bunch of different ways,” Maurice said. “He can be a passer, he can be a guy that works in the holes and be effective at a slower pace. I look at Roslovic, I see a lot of the same things. He can slow the game down, play in holes, (make) passes, and he’s a really smart guy.”
On-ice intelligence is another thing Roslovic shares with Scheifele, and Vincent has seen it firsthand. Roslovic’s focal point last season was rounding out his defensive game, and that meant refining his stick positioning, body positioning and the way he reads the play as it comes together.
Vincent praised Roslovic as a “cerebral player” with a high hockey IQ, one who pays attention to those minute details and craves the knowledge necessary to raise his game. “I remember talking about the power play with him, and he was asking more advanced questions for a younger guy,” Vincent said. “He’s a thinker. He’s watching. He studies the game. When I have a player telling me, ‘Hey coach, did you see that play last night in the game between L.A. and Carolina?’ I know they’re watching hockey. He’s that kind of guy.”
For Roslovic, who would be entering his senior year at Miami University (Ohio) had he not departed the NCAA after his standout freshman season, watching and studying a night’s action, not to mention going over his own footage with the coaching staff, is the new breed of homework. The results can be seen on ice, too.
Vincent noted how the youngster will borrow from the great players and implement their techniques into his own game. There’s a lot of communication, as well, with Roslovic picking the brains of the coaching staff, his teammates and even former mentors. “You always try to develop your game,” Roslovic said. “You’re always trying to get better. Mark is always trying to get better, Blake (Wheeler) is always trying to get better, and those are the best guys on our team. They’re working every day to make improvements.”
Even a marginally improved Roslovic would be a frightening thing. His five goals and 14 regular season points and three playoff assists may not have him on the league-wide radar just yet, but stat heads highlight his name as a breakout candidate on what is already one of the league’s highest-scoring attacks. The evidence of Roslovic’s immense offensive potential ahead of his sophomore season came in his per-minute production at even strength in the post-season, which was bested on the team only by Stastny, Scheifele and Wheeler.
Roslovic’s smooth navigation of the AHL, where he registered 28 goals and 83 points in 97 contests across two seasons, will also go a long way toward giving him the belief he can be an NHL difference-maker. “You learn every second you’re on the ice,” he said. “And just to have that confidence that you can (play) at the next-highest level and dominate there, that definitely gives me a little bit of confidence to come here and try to do the same thing.”
PATRIK LAINE, RW — 2016 draft, 2nd overall
155 GP, 80 G, 54 A, 134 PTS
A brick of a man with a devastating shot, he earned immediate comparisons to Alex Ovechkin. Laine has lived up to the billing through two seasons, racking up 80 goals at an age when Ovie wasn’t even playing in the NHL yet.
MARK SCHEIFELE, C — 2011 draft, 7th overall
366 GP, 113 G, 174 A, 287 PTS
Remember when Scheifele was labelled a reach? Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff knew better in his first draft with the team. Scheifele posted easily the best playoff performance in Jets/Thrashers history with 14 goals last spring.
NIKOLAJ EHLERS, LW — 2014 draft, 9th overall
236 GP, 69 G, 93 A, 162 PTS
One of many Jets forwards with incredible speed to match his skill, Ehlers ranks third in his draft class in goals and points, trailing only David Pastrnak and Leon Draisaitl. Ehlers was a steal from Day 1.
BRYAN LITTLE, C — 2006 draft, 12th overall
754 GP, 200 G, 275 A, 475 PTS
Unsung pivot leads the Jets/Thrashers franchise in games and is second only to Ilya Kovalchuk in goals. Little has the rare distinction of surviving the demoralizing Atlanta years and taking part in the Jets’ rise to contender status.
KYLE CONNOR, LW — 2015 draft, 17th overall
96 GP, 33 G, 29 A, 62 PTS
Demoted to the AHL two seasons ago for extra seasoning, he arrived a polished product last year and was the lone NHL rookie to crest 30 goals. Connor, a speedy net-crasher on a dynamite first line, is just getting started.
This story appears in the November 5, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.