Jets’ Roslovic at a Career Crossroads

In just 10 months, Winnipeg Jets forward Jack Roslovic will be a restricted free agent.

But before he sits down at the table with Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, he’ll play through what will be an exceedingly important season for him — the price he’ll be able to demand for his ongoing services depends almost entirely on how he performs in 2019-20.

Roslovic’s 2018-19 Campaign a Roller Coaster

Coming off a 2017-18 season in which he received his first extended NHL opportunity, recording 14 points in 31 games for the Jets after lighting it up for the Manitoba Moose with 35 points in 32 games, it looked like Roslovic was primed to score a bigger role in 2018-19.

Jack Roslovic - Winnipeg Jets
Jack Roslovic played 31 games for the Jets in 2017-18. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The departure of second-line centre Paul Stastny to the Vegas Golden Knights after the Jets’ 2018 run to the Western Conference Final heightened the allure and possibility of an Ehlers-Roslovic-Laine line; THW’s own Rob Mahon suggested last October that Roslovic’s speedy, creative style would complement Ehlers and particularly Laine better than Brian Little’s straightforward north-south tendencies.

However, that line never materialized and ultimately, Roslovic’s sophomore NHL season was full of ups and downs.

Despite his hard, deceptive shot, playmaking skills, and overall offensive ability, he spent the first half of the season on the bottom six as a winger, a casualty of the Jets’ depth at forward. As a result, he received little opportunity to flash his stuff and was generally being wasted. That is, until an Ehlers’ injury in early January gave Roslovic his top-six shot on a line with Little and Laine.

Winnipeg Jets Bryan Little Jack Roslovic
Roslovic (left) was given his first extended top-six shot in early 2019. (Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports)

It was a role he grew into as time passed; he recorded nine points in January and February combined, scored his first NHL hat trick, became a fixture on the power play, and generally played an engaged, energetic and confident game.

Related: Jets’ Roslovic Making the Most of More Minutes

After Ehlers returned and the Jets traded for Kevin Hayes at the trade deadline, Roslovic’s role again waned; he went back to playing 10 minutes or fewer and was even sent to the press box in favour of 37-year-old journeyman Matt Hendricks a couple of times, a move that’s still a head-scratcher months later.

Roslovic Need to Be More Consistent This Season

Roslovic’s skills are undeniable and potentially game-breaking. The problem is, he hasn’t shown those skills consistently enough.

Last season, he recorded 24 points in 77 games; however, those points came in just 19 games. In his other 58, he was held pointless.

Roslovic was once thought to be comparable to Kyle Connor — both were selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft — but it’s obvious the former’s been outpaced badly by the latter. Connor took the NHL by storm in 2017-18, has put up back-to-back 30 goal seasons, and is likely going to make $7-plus million annually when he finally does decide to sign. One he signs, he’ll be firmly entrenched in the Jets’ top-six for years to come.

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Roslovic — who has 14 goals and 28 assists for 38 points in 109 games —simply isn’t in the same tier as Connor anymore. Nor is he in the same tier as Laine, who despite his wild inconsistencies, has scored 110 goals in his first three seasons and possesses the generational shot that equals big bucks regardless of deficiencies that exist in other aspects of his game.

Many would argue Roslovic hasn’t been given the same opportunities to succeed as Connor and Laine. That’s true, and also why the 2019-20 season will be so important — it’s the one that will determine whether he has the leverage to ask for a lucrative, longer-term deal or only the resume to request a modest short-term contract.

Jets RFA Uncertainty Could Benefit Roslovic

The perfect chance for Roslovic to pop off and increase his desirability next summer may be right the horizon: Connor and Laine remain unsigned and Cheveldayoff is in very tough to get them inked in time for Oct. 2’s season-opener against the New York Rangers.

If both Connor and Laine are MIA to start the season, they’ll leave top-six slots vacant, one of which should be Roslovic’s to take. He simply must take advantage of it — if he could increase his point total to between 35 and 40, it’d put him in a better negotiating position.

Jack Roslovic Winnipeg Jets
If Connor and Laine don’t sign in time for the regular season, Roslovic will get another opportunity to play on the top-six. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 22-year-old seems he’ll have a bee in his bonnet to do just that. Back in June, he fired his agent Ken Robinson and hired former-NHLer Claude Lemieux as reports swirled that he was unhappy with his role. The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reported Roslovic requested a trade, but that was rebuffed by Robinson himself.

If Roslovic is going to prove his worth, he’ll likely have to do it as a winger; the Jets are rather set up the middle with Mark Scheifele, Little, Adam Lowry, and Andrew Copp. He could, perhaps, start the season on a line with Ehlers and Little if Laine remains unsigned.

It’s clear the Jets haven’t given up on Roslovic despite him not reaching his potential yet; the fact they rejected “multiple offers” for him last February is proof he’s still very much a part of their future plans. (from ‘Jets shopping Petan, fending off offers for Roslovic,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 02/01/19.)

How big a part of those plans, and how big a piece of the financial pie he’ll be able to consume after this season, however, is up to Roslovic to decide. Watch for him to bring it.