Jack Roslovic Is Ahead of Schedule

When the Winnipeg Jets drafted Jack Roslovic in 2015, the expectation was he would spend quite a bit of time with the Miami of Ohio Redhawks. Consider that expectation shattered.

Roslovic was viewed as more of a long-term project, as 25th overall picks tend to be, but on the morning of July 18, 2016, the young man signed his entry-level contract with the Jets, meaning he will never play another game of college hockey.

Options abound now for Roslovic, who can play with the OHL’s London Knights, the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, or even (this being a long shot) the Jets themselves in the 2016-17 season. Whatever option he chooses, Jets fans didn’t expect him to be making this choice so soon, and likely neither did he. At least, not until the Jets development camp earlier this month, where he was a standout player.

Some will say, and not wrongly, that development camps mean little if anything in the long run, but it’s hard to think Roslovic’s stellar showing at this year’s camp didn’t open some eyes as to how ready he really was. They certainly opened mine and those of many other observers as well. Knowing how much further ahead of his expected development curve he was, the Jets no doubt helped him reach the decision to leave college.

No Wrong Answers

There’re no guarantees about where Roslovic will start next season, but he’s got plenty of options, as Aaron Portzline demonstrates above. And really, none of these is a step back for him in any sense. Whatever he does next season, he’s guaranteed to turn pro the following season, at least a year earlier than he would’ve if he’d stayed in college.

As for how he’ll develop this season, again, there are no wrong answers. The prevailing wisdom is he’ll go to London and start the year with the Knights, likely as their new number one centre. And I could pretty much end this train of thought right here. Being the new number one centre for the reigning Memorial Cup champions, with the possibility (however slight) of a reunion with old NTDP linemate Matthew Tkachuk, is an option most prospects would consider a major success.

London is a factory for NHL talent, and there may not be a better team in the world at developing and nurturing young players. Roslovic would be headed into the best possible environment, with a chance to be the go-to-guy and tear up the junior scoresheets one last time before turning pro. He’d also likely cement his already firm grip on a roster spot with the American World Junior team.

Yet Roslovic has exceeded expectations at every turn. He flourished with the big guns Matthews and Tkachuk at the NTDP, he had a great freshman season at Miami of Ohio (okay, not as good as Kyle Connor’s but that one raised our standards unreasonably high; 26 points in 36 games for a freshman is terrific) and he’s looked great at both development camps he’s attended so far. What if he exceeds expectations again and starts with the Moose?

In that case, Roslovic turns pro years before we thought and gets plenty of ice time on a young team during his first stint with the pros. He gets to team up with… you know, at this point the Jets bottom six is such a happy mess that I have no idea who he’ll team up with ultimately (THW’s own Sean Olinkin has the word on that) but he’s got lots of options, not least of which are Brendan Lemieux and Nic Petan. Roslovic has proven he can play with good players, but last year at Miami of Ohio proved he can produce without his phenom linemates as well.

YouTube player

So whichever locale Roslovic ends up in has its merits. All indications are he’ll thrive either way.

A Man Under the Radar

Roslovic has never had the spotlight thrust firmly upon him, and that’s likely helped his development. He rode shotgun with Matthews and Tkachuk with the NTDP, and while scouts mostly agree he brought out the best in them rather than the other way around, he never stole the spotlight while those two were around.

He may have been the Redhawks’ best player, but the Redhawks themselves were often an afterthought in the NCAA last year with a sub-.500 record, easily overshadowed in their division by contenders like Denver and eventual NCAA champs North Dakota. And though he was a first rounder, Roslovic wasn’t the first of the Jets’ first round picks in 2015. Kyle Connor holds that honour and Connor’s stellar freshman season overshadowed Roslovic again. Which seems to be just fine with Roslovic. If anything, that plays into his hands.

When the Jets took Roslovic at 25, it was considered a bit of a reach, but not much of one, and since they were playing with house money after Connor fell into their lap at 17 (I don’t wish to kick a man while he’s down, but I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to the Boston Bruins for that) the pick was met with a collective shrug. The sense at the time was “Well, we got our guy at 17, whatever happens next is just gravy.” Heck, even the pick they used to take Roslovic was an almost-forgotten part of a blockbuster trade with Buffalo. Based on his play since being drafted, he’s okay with that.

Roslovic won’t be under the radar for long. His speed is elite, and his skating style evokes thoughts of Nikolaj Ehlers. His shot and vision are both top-tier, and he’s just as comfortable carrying a line himself as he is setting up other high-end players. It’s true he’s a bit slight, but his skills largely offset that, and his work ethic ensures he won’t get by on his skill alone. Roslovic has the makings of a true leader, and whoever his linemates are, he will bring out the best in them.

The signing of the entry level contract may be the first time the spotlight has really been on Roslovic. Suddenly Jets fans who don’t pay as close of attention to the prospect pool remembered they took two players in the first round in 2015. And much like the first of the two, the second is well ahead of schedule.