JACK Roslovic spent two years admiring the buzzsaw approach — the speed, tenacity and physicality — of the ‘TLC Line’, ever grateful the trio was on the side of the Winnipeg Jets.
While he wasn’t one of them, he respected and appreciated the relentless work ethic of Brandon Tanev, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp.
"Defensively, the shut-down guys for our team. One of the lines in the league that, in my opinion, was really underrated. They created energy, played big minutes against the other teams’ best, chipped in on the scoresheet once in a while," said Roslovic, speaking Sunday morning from Bell MTS Place.
"As much as I give credit to how well they did their jobs, the credit I would give them isn’t necessary about the skillsets they bring but the work ethic they brought every game. That’s very impressive for them to do that, and it’s a really hard job to do."
Now, he is one of them and he’s been tasked with that really hard job.
Roslovic had a sound effort Sunday night while making his debut on the right side with Lowry up the middle and Copp on the left as the Jets outlasted the Edmonton Oilers 1-0 in a shootout. The hosts had a light shot count (23) through 65 minutes but Roslovic had two of them, including a great chance off a filthy toe drag that left him alone in the slot, only to be denied by a terrific kick save by goalie Mike Smith midway through the final period.
The line kept the Connor McDavid line at bay, too, in several matchups throughout the night.
Roslovic was named third star in the contest, behind the two shutout goalies, Connor Hellebuyck and Smith, respectively.
Bryan Little, playing his first game of the season after recovering from a concussion, returned to his customary spot at centre, flanked by Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor, while Copp moved from centre and was reunited with Lowry. With Tanev now making millions in Pittsburgh, Roslovic was slotted in as his replacement on what was, from 2017-19, one of the NHL’s premier checking units.
The Jets didn’t select Roslovic in the first round (25th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft because of his prowess as a shut-down forward. He’s been an offensive producer at every level of hockey in which he’s played, from the U.S. under-17 program, to the NCAA ‘s Miami University (Ohio) RedHawks to the Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Roslovic enjoys scoring goals and setting up others. He’s defined himself as a point-producer throughout his hockey career just as most others did along his journey to the NHL. Last season, he scored nine goals and added 15 assists in 77 games in his first full season as a regular, in third- and fourth-line opportunities and with the second power-play group.
But the 22-year-old Columbus product, listed at 6-1, 187 pounds, hasn’t earned that role in parts of three seasons with Winnipeg, a team blessed with a top-six forward group carved in stone.
Adjusting to a different set of responsibilities gives him the best opportunity to make an impact.
"I think it’s a good opportunity for me and a good role to develop into. Now that it’s my third year here and I’m used to things and the systems, I want to be someone they can lean on. My role has kind of developed into that, and if it continues to go that way then great," he said, about seven hours before puck drop.
"I’m liking the way I’m progressing, and the fact I’ve earned the trust to play with Copp and Lowry and fill Tanev’s spot, it’s important."
Roslovic has expressed some frustration over a lack of opportunity to provide more offence in the past, but seems to now get how the pecking order works.
"The one thing that’s been difficult is to have that discipline and that consistency as a pro to skate hard every shift. It’s been a learning thing for me, but it’s something I’m starting to feel good with," he said. "If your team’s winning and you’re helping out, then there’s nothing negative to be said. You’re pretty happy in your role. In every job, there’s frustration. I think the bumps in the road have made me a better player. I think that it was good for what I needed, for my career, and the road I’m travelling."
He’s also acutely aware that coming over the boards with Lowry and Copp could push his playing time up to 15 minutes a night, while an abundance of scoring chances could present if the puck stays in the opponents’ end and the trio can get an effective cycle going.
"They’ve always created zone time and that’s exciting for me. I want to bring a little more offence but also play that hard-to-play style that they do so well. It’s a line where I can definitely benefit," he said.
Altering expectations is true of most young NHL player and is not specific to Roslovic, said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. That said, no steps are being taken to mould him and his "nifty set of hands" into Tanev’s image, and the Winnipeg bench boss believes the young forward has the makeup to succeed both as a checker and finisher.
"There’s a real challenge between playing centre and playing wing. It’s a completely different mindset. I still have lots of faith in Jack as a centre-iceman, it’s just right now he’s better on the wing, it’s easier to process. He can do some things, we’re starting to see, with his intensity. He’s a very good skater... a very fit man. So, he has the ability to drive the pace," said Maurice.
"The line is going to look different. But what we are saying to Jack is the intensity that you played with the last two or three games makes you effective there. It changes possibly what that line can accomplish, but not necessarily what its primary objective is: 'Go out and take everything away from the other teams’ best lines.' He’s going to learn the game defensively playing there.
"We haven’t really ever had a guy there we think can finish, can make some plays. So, there’s some offence there. We’re not trying just turn Jack into a shut-down guy."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).