Jets’ Roslovic Struggling in Top-Six Role

While most of the players on the Jets’ top two forward lines are producing nicely overall this season, there is one exception: Jack Roslovic.

Slumping on the Second Line

Roslovic is in quite the slump: he has just one goal and four assists for five points in 18 games dating back to the beginning of December. Three of those assists, 60 per cent of his points in that span, came in the same game — a 7-4 New Year’s Eve win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Jack Roslovic Winnipeg Jets
Jack Roslovic is the one Jet on the top two forward lines not producing consistently. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

The soon-to-be-23-year-old has been mainly for a good stretch of games, and as seen below, is far below the rest of the Jets’ top six when it comes to point production.

Winnipeg Jets' Top Six Production

A season ago, Roslovic didn’t get consistent opportunities and was mostly relegated to a bottom-six role — save for a mid-season stint on the second line with Bryan Little and Patrik Laine when Nikolaj Ehlers was injured — the same can’t be said for this season.

Roslovic’s played on the second line with Blake Wheeler and Ehlers for more than two months now, ever since Little suffered a serious brain and ear injury that forced head coach Paul Maurice to split up Wheeler and Mark Scheifele and put together the top two lines still in tact today. Roslovic’s average time on ice is 14:58, the highest of his three-year career by far and more than five minutes higher than last season.

Related: The Severity and Impact of Bryan Little’s Brain Injury

There’s no doubt Roslovic has a top-six skill set: a deceptive shot, passing prowess, prolific play-maker, and good overall offensive awareness. Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown his skills consistently enough.

“When you’re scoring it does feel different,” Roslovic admitted Tuesday prior to the Jets’ Wednesday matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs. “When you’re hot, you’re hot. I’m cold.”

“It is interesting to watch, because all three are so very, very fast,” Maurice said. “Blake plays a bit of a bull’s game, and those two guys are… he’s trying to figure out where these young guys are going to be at any time,” (from ‘Slumping Roslovic still sees Rosy future for Jets’ second line,’ Winnipeg Sun, 01/07/2020).

Roslovic Lagging Behind Linemates

Since Roslovic, Wheeler, and Ehlers were put together in early November, Wheeler has 32 points in 29 games and Ehlers has 23. Roslovic has 11, evidence of Maurice’s words that chemistry is still a work in progress for the trio.

A good chunk of Wheeler’s points — 13 of 32 since the line’s inception —have come on the power play, when he’s away from Roslovic.

However, 20 or Ehlers’ 23 have come at even strength. Even so, Roslovic has drawn assists on just three of Ehlers’ goals and three of Wheeler’s. He has five goals of his own in that time, but hasn’t scored since Dec. 17.

Winnipeg Jets Nikolaj Ehlers
Ehlers has 11 goals and nine at even strength since the Roslovic-Wheeler-Ehlers line was created, but Roslovic’s assisted only three of them. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Back Half of Season Very Important For Roslovic

Back in September, we explored how Roslovic was at a career crossroads, and how his play in 2019-20 would dictate what type of money he could command this summer when his entry-level contract expires.

Roslovic’s inconsistency is nothing new. He recorded 24 points in 77 games in 2018-19, but all his points came in just 19 games.

Jack Roslovic Winnipeg Jets
Roslovic, whose production this season will determine the type of contract he can push for, was similarly inconsistent last season. He was held pointless in 58 of his 77 games. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He won’t get anything close to what fellow 2015 first-round pick Kyle Connor got in September — $50 million over seven years — after a long holdout. Despite being less than two months older than Roslovic, Connor has progressed a lot faster — he is a highly-impressive, well-rounded, and consistent offensive threat who will be a perennial point-per-game player for the foreseeable future.

Roslovic has 55 points in 154 career games, which while well below Connor’s 172, is not abysmal by any means. Some players are slower to develop than others: take Wheeler, who didn’t reach his ceiling until his mid-to-late 20s, as an example. A meteoric rise such as Connor’s is the exception not the rule.

Kyle Connor Winnipeg Jets
It’s hard to believe, given how much quicker Connor has developed, that both he and Roslovic were drafted in the same round and are just a few months apart in age. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Right now, a modest bridge deal — one that gives Roslovic the chance to develop further and cultivate some consistency — looks most likely.

Trade, Demotion Not Likely

Some fans are fed up with Roslovic’s lack of production and want to see him permanently punted to the bottom-six. That’s unlikely to happen. Although Andrew Copp skated with Wheeler and Ehlers Thursday night against the Boston Bruins, Copp is simply too effective with Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault to remove from the third line for the long haul.

There’s also the possibility Roslovic could be traded close to the deadline next month, perhaps for some defensive help, but that also seems unlikely. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has built his team using a patient “draft and develop” strategy and has rarely traded away his first-round selections. In fact, he’s done it just once when he dealt Jacob Trouba last June, which he was basically forced to do because the now-Rangers blueliner wouldn’t sign long-term in Winnipeg.

We’ll see on Sunday — when the Jets kick off a three-game home stand with a matinee matchup against the Nashville Predators — if Roslovic is back on the second line. It’s likely he will be, and that he’ll be given the chance to work through his slump and keep learning more about his linemates.

Winnipeg Jets' Jack Roslovic Arizona Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson
It’s imperative Roslovic breaks out of his slump soon. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade)

“We’re really coming along. We’re all getting closer, starting to understand each other. We can be really good,” Roslovic said Tuesday. “It’s a patience thing. If we keep playing the way we are the past couple of games, it’s going to be a good future.”

Let’s hope that’s true, for both his sake and the team’s. The Jets are just two points up on the Vancouver Canucks for the Western Conference’s second wild card spot.