For the first time in franchise history (going back to the Atlanta Thrashers' days,) the Winnipeg Jets not only won their first playoff game but also their first series. Not only did they win their first playoff game and series, they also made it all the way to the Conference Finals where they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights.
With one of the best young cores in the game, there is no doubting that Winnipeg is going to be one of the favorites in the West once again.
The Young Core
Kyle Connor led all rookies in goals last season, beating out Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks. Patrik Laine has scored 80 goals already in his career and is barely 20-years old, and Mark Scheifele has emerged as a legitimate number-one center.
The thing with having so many young players come up at the same time, eventually they are all going to need to be paid.
As of right now, according to Cap Friendly, the Jets have the most cap space of any team in the NHL. More times than not, that’s a good thing, but for the Jets the just under $27 million they have to spend will get spent up fairly quickly.
Winnipeg’s top defensive pairing, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba, are restricted free agents and due new contracts as is Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck. Brandon Tanev, Marko Dano, Adam Lowry, and Tucker Poolman are due new deals as well.
That’s why, despite having the cap space to re-sign Paul Stastny, they couldn’t quite get things done when Vegas came in and drove up the price.
With Stastny gone, that opens up a spot in the top-six down the middle, and while Bryan Little may have the advantage when it comes to getting it, in the theme of the Jets turning to and getting production from their young players, former first-round pick Jack Roslovic is an intriguing option going into next season.
When drafted, some saw Roslovic as a guy who was running shotgun to Austin Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk on the US Under-18 team, but the Jets were quick to grab him up with the 25th overall pick during the 2015 draft, a year before the other two were eligible.
After spending just one year in college, Roslovic turned pro and led the Manitoba Moose in scoring, with 48 points in 65 games played. He started this past season in the AHL again and was averaging a point-per-game (35 points in 32 games) at the time of his permanent call up.
Breaking in with the Jets
Roslovic broke into the lineup with the Jets in the middle of the season, playing in 32 games and registering 14 points (5 G, 9 A) while getting mostly bottom-six minutes. He also played in ten of the Jets’ playoff games and recorded three assists in those contests.
With Stastny moving on to the Golden Knights, that reopens a spot on the second line that was formerly filled by Little up to the trade deadline, making him the most likely candidate to play alongside Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.
A deeper look at the numbers, in a bigger role, and lined up in between two players like Laine and Ehlers, Roslovic could be in line for a breakout-type of season.
|Off Zone FO%||50.23%||8th|
*All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com
When it came to scoring rate, nobody on the Jets was better than Roslovic at even strength (among forwards who played at least 300 minutes at 5v5.) He also finished fourth in goals-per-60 minutes, and second in assists-per-60 on a team that is loaded with scorers.
Roslovic ranked tenth among Jets’ forwards in that same group (300+ minutes at 5v5) in time-on-ice-per game, meaning with more playing time he could have a breakout offensive season.
He also showed a strong, two-way presence, posting the highest on-ice SV% and GF% all the while getting one of the lowest amount of start times in the offensive zone.
With increased playing time, as well as the opportunity to play with Laine and Ehlers could help propel Roslovic into breakout status. Two things could conceivably stand in his way.
Where does Roslovic fit?
The first would be still having Little on the team, who was originally the team’s second line center until Winnipeg made a trade for Stastny. Now 30-years-old, Little is one of the few remaining players to have worn a Thrashers' jersey in their career and has enjoyed success as a middle-six forward in both Atlanta and Winnipeg.
Little is coming off his eighth career 40-point season and fifth in a row. On a team that is ready to win now, Little’s track record is something that could earn him the nod over someone like Roslovic, who showed promise but is still relatively unproven.
The other is that, in Roslovic’s versatility to play both center and wing, along with having Little, Andrew Copp, and Adam Lowry (currently an RFA), there may be more value in keeping him on the third line. Having a playmaker like Roslovic in the bottom-six would make the team deeper and more difficult to play against.
Once the Jets sign all of their RFAs, there won’t be much money left over to go out and bring anybody into the organization from the outside. So to get back to where they were last year, and maybe even further, the Jets are going to need players from within the organization to step up.
Roslovic is good a candidate as any, having not only the skill set but the numbers that point to a potential breakout season.
Where do you think Roslovic fits best into the Jets’ lineup? At center, or on the wing? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.