Who is the real Roslovic?

Shows flashes of brilliance then seemingly disappears

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2020 (1017 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Now you see him, now you don’t.

That might be the most succinct way to sum up the play of Winnipeg Jets forward Jack Roslovic, who can tantalize with his speed and skill one moment, only to disappear for stretches right after. The 23-year-old has all the tools to be an impact player, but hasn’t left his mark on a consistent basis.

It must be maddening for coach Paul Maurice, who has repeatedly moved Roslovic up and down the lineup (and, previously, in and out of the lineup) trying to find the right fit. It must be frustrating for Roslovic, who is in the middle of his most important season but hasn’t exactly hit the jackpot when it comes to opportunities that have come his way. 

Throw in all the other noise out there — trade rumours and being a pending restricted free agent in the final year of his entry-level contract — and there’s plenty on his plate these days, which Roslovic recognized as I sat down at his stall for a one-on-one chat following Monday’s practice at Bell MTS Iceplex.

“It’s interesting right now,” Roslovic said with a smile.

You don’t say.

Let’s start with the most basic question: Just what exactly is Roslovic?

Is he a dynamic scoring forward, not unlike that of Kyle Connor, who was taken just eight picks before him in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft? There were many who saw the two college hockey standouts as similar players when they first turned pro at the start of the 2016-17 season and were assigned to the Manitoba Moose out of training camp. But their careers, not to mention their bank accounts, have taken very different routes.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade Winnipeg Jets' Jack Roslovic celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, in Winnipeg on Sunday.

“I think I can be a good two-way centre.”
– Jack Roslovic 

Connor leads the Jets with 29 goals this season and is up to 96 in 238 regular-season games. Roslovic has 12 on the year and 26 in his 169-game NHL career so far. Connor is a top-line staple who just signed a seven-year, US $50 million extension last fall. Roslovic is still trying to find his spot, is making US $894,1666 this season and will need a new deal this coming summer, one which won’t come anywhere close to Connor’s.

For what it’s worth, Roslovic has never viewed himself as a Connor clone. 

“Obviously Kyle, he’s done a lot of good things. He got to step into that big role and did a great job seizing the opportunity,” said Roslovic. That big role would be playing with some combination of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers for much of his career, which is an offensive player’s paradise. 

Until recently, Roslovic had typically been in the bottom-six getting limited minutes. That was the source of major frustration last season, and he ultimately fired his agent, Ken Robinson in an attempt to jump-start his career. Roslovic hired former NHLer Claude Lemieux, father of ex-Jets teammate and good friend Brendan Lemieux, but the reality is there’s very little impact an agent can have when it comes to how a coach utilizes a player.

While the opportunity may not have been there last season, it certainly has been this year, with Roslovic spending much of his time on the second line and getting some power play time on the second unit. Still, he’s put up just 25 points in 60 games, compared to his previous high of 24 in 77 games last year.

Does that represent the ceiling for Roslovic, as more of a depth player who can occasionally chip in? 

“I think I can be a good two-way centre,” the Columbus, Ohio native told me Monday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Winnipeg Jets' mercurial Jack Roslovic.

“Didn’t seem like I might be a centreman necessarily here. Which isn’t a bad thing.”
– Jack Roslovic 

In that sense, perhaps Roslovic is more of an Andrew Copp clone, a versatile winger/centre hybrid who can be valuable in both ends of the rink on a regular basis. He’s not there yet. But there’s potential in my eyes. 

It was interesting Roslovic mentioned playing centre, since he broke into the league that way (similar to Copp), was given a brief audition but quickly relegated to the wing (similar to Copp).But look at the most recent game Sunday night. There was Maurice throwing Roslovic a curveball, moving him back up the middle on a new-look unit with fellow 2015 draftees Jansen Harkins (second round) and Mason Appleton (sixth round).

For the first time in his Jets career, Roslovic was the most experienced guy on his line. And the early returns were encouraging. The trio produced two goals in the 3-2 victory over Chicago, with Maurice praising them post-game by saying “they won us the game.”

Roslovic admitted he was surprised by his latest assignment. 

“Didn’t seem like I might be a centreman necessarily here. Which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always said I like right wing as well. But I like the challenge, I like the new position,” said Roslovic, who was quick to play down the performance. 

“It’s one game. Ask me what’s clicking when we help our team make the playoffs and be a big piece of the the team. Right now, we’re not. Obviously it was a good win for us and we helped contribute to it.”

All of which brings me to perhaps the most important part of Roslovic’s development, one that won’t show up in any statistical category but is clear as day — he’s matured.

I heard it in his voice last week when he failed to take the bait on another scribe’s suggestion that the Jets had a weak effort against New York because they’d played several strong games in a row. Roslovic poured cold water on that theory, saying that’s no excuse and “we get paid to do a job out there.”

Well done, young man.

“You see more stuff, you learn more stuff as the days go by. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to see a lot of things I see today four years ago,” Roslovic said of how the mental approach has changed.

That’s helped him navigate the business side as well, including changing agents, the upcoming contract situation and the fact he’s often named as a player the Jets should look to move in exchange for help on the back-end. 

Every player develops in their own way, and it’s clear Roslovic didn’t have the same lightning-quick growth that Connor, Laine and Ehlers have. He appears to recognize the need to be more consistent, to bring the work ethic on a daily basis.

He’s moving at his own pace, and where it ultimately takes him — either with the Jets or perhaps eventually on another team — remains to be seen. 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Winnipeg Jets' mercurial Jack Roslovic.
Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

History

Updated on Monday, February 17, 2020 11:16 PM CST: Adds photos

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