There’s no question the hockey world can be a small one. In this case, that’s true both figuratively and literally.
Ivan Roslovic and Caleb Letestu might just be eight years old, but they’ve quickly become a dynamic duo as teammates on a minor hockey team in Columbus, Ohio. Now, their more famous NHL family members will get the chance to shine together. Roslovic’s brother, Jack, has welcomed Caleb’s father, Mark, into the fold with the Winnipeg Jets.
"It’s funny to watch No. 55 Letestu and No. 28 Roslovic skating together in Columbus," Letestu told the Free Press this week at Bell MTS Iceplex, as he worked out with new teammates in preparation for the start of today’s training camp.
The Roslovic clan is from Columbus, while Letestu’s wife and children still live there after he spent his past two seasons playing for the Blue Jackets and their AHL affiliate in nearby Cleveland.
Letestu, 34, signed a one-year, US$700,000 deal with the Jets this summer and will be among a number of players battling for depth positions. Of course, No. 55 wasn’t available in Winnipeg, as top centre Mark Scheifele has that locked up. So, Letestu has switched to 22.
Regardless of what’s on the back of his sweater, Letestu is hoping to make a number of contributions to his newest club.
"There were options with varying roles and different thoughts for what I could bring. Just in talking to Winnipeg, their vision of me and where I fit in kind of aligned with the opportunity I wanted. Obviously, there’s no guarantees or promises or anything. But all you’re looking for at this point in your career is an opportunity to prove you’ve still got it, and I feel here gave me that best opportunity," Letestu said.
The 5-10, 195-pound Letestu has 560 career NHL games under his belt, with 93 goals and 117 assists. It only seems like about half of them have been scored against the Jets, especially during the 2016-17 season in which he scored the game-winner for the Edmonton Oilers at the Heritage Classic at IG Field. Letestu had a career-high 16 goals that season for the Oilers, including five against Winnipeg.
"There’s never a rhyme or reason. I think stuff like that, it happens. But there’s been a few chuckles around, talking with the coaches," Letestu said of his reputation as a "Jets killer."
Still, the product of Elk Point, Alta., is thrilled to be back playing hockey north of the border.
"My best years have come in a Canadian market, so I know kind of what can come with it. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve seen the Whiteout on TV. That’s something I think any hockey player, no matter where you’re from, would want to be a part of. Certainly, there’s expectations that come with it. I know I can handle that kind of stuff," Letestu said.
He’s good friends with Jets backup goalie Laurent Brossoit, as the two were teammates in Edmonton, and counts former Jets forward Matt Hendricks among his best buddies.
"He gave me a lot of insight into the organization," Letestu said.
Training camp will determine where he ultimately fits in. But expect to see Letestu, a right-shooting centre, get some playing time in a bottom-six role. He can also be an effective penalty killer, is good in the faceoff circle and can even chip-in on the power play, if needed.
"I think the entirety of my game is kind of what I pride myself on. There’s a point in your career where guys had to start doing that to stick around, had to be able to wear a lot of hats. It just gives you an opportunity to fill a role if it pops up," Letestu said.
"I came here to make the hockey team. I think there’s a fit. It’s my job to make the decisions as difficult as possible. There’s a lot of good players here competing for spots. It’s on me to make sure I’m ready to go from day 1 and putting myself in the best position to make the team."
Letestu said the contract situations with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor likely won’t impact his chances.
"With or without those guys, I still see a fit for myself, I still see a role here," he said.
Letestu believes the Jets will still be a force to be reckoned with this season, despite plenty of changes to the roster and a disappointing end to last season, which fell short of lofty expectations.
"I’ve played against this group. I know how difficult it is to play against this group when it’s going well. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re heavy. To me. it screams playoff team," Letestu said.
"I think this team is in the business for Stanley Cups. It’s a hard league to win. Sometimes, you get to the Western finals (in 2017-18). Yeah, they may have taken a step back, but the core is here, the core is in place.
"I think the goal is a Stanley Cup, and that’s one thing, especially for me, that was especially appealing coming here."
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.