Jack Roslovic had a tremendous first professional season. He led the Manitoba Moose in points, despite a second-half push from fellow rookie Kyle Connor, and was one of their most consistent offensive players all year. He was the team’s lone representative at the AHL All-Star Game, and by the end of the year, he’d played his first NHL game in front of friends and family in his hometown of Columbus.
Somewhere in all that, he found time to win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships with Team USA as well. In short, it was a crazy yet productive year, and it established the Jets second first-round pick of 2015 as an A-list prospect.
So the Jets would have to be crazy to trade Jack Roslovic, wouldn’t they?
I want to make something clear right away. This piece is not advocating the trade of Roslovic, nor is it predicting it exactly. If Roslovic spends the rest of his career with the Jets, that could be the best thing for all involved.
But the Jets need help in a few key areas, the kind of help that, if they want it this season, is likely to come from trades. In today’s NHL, with potential trade targets heavily scouted both on video and in person, nobody is likely to fleece anybody else. You’ve got to give a lot to get a lot.
— Manitoba Moose (@ManitobaMoose) June 6, 2017
And after last season, it’s clear the Jets need a lot. Despite a hugely talented top-six, one even opposing coaches praised as one of the league’s best, they were held back by sub-par (let’s put it gently, shall we?) goaltending and an oft-injured defense that, by year’s end, held more AHL defenders than NHLers. The Jets could use help on both fronts and in this day and age, you won’t get help on either front without paying a premium.
So Why Now?
It’s no secret that, in many circles in Winnipeg, the honeymoon period is over. We’ve just passed year six of what was initially supposed to be a five-year plan, and the team has just one playoff experience (and no playoff wins) to show for all of the young talent they’ve stockpiled. No one can reasonably expect young players to turn this team around overnight, but at some point the shrewd drafting has to yield something other than commentary on their promising future from the rest of the hockey world.
All of this is not to say the future isn’t bright in Winnipeg, as I fully believe it is, but there is some pressure, both internal and external, on Paul Maurice and Kevin Cheveldayoff to get this team into some meaningful games. The team’s excuse at the start of last season was that they were a young team and there were going to be some growing pains. But the young players ended up taking the team over, not just up front but on the back end, where Jacob Trouba took the next step and Josh Morrissey had a promising year, as outlined by our own Garret Hohl in the Pilot’s Logbook. That excuse isn’t going to hold water anymore.
The Jets most immediate needs are in goal and on defense, specifically on the left side. While many close to the Jets believe Eric Comrie is their goalie of the future, they’re not likely to want to run with a tandem of he and Hellebuyck, two inexperienced goalies, after last year.
As for defense, the Jets shouldn’t expect any imminent help from their prospects. Tucker Poolman might managed the jump to the NHL next year, but that is a big might, as he’ll be a first-year pro coming off major surgeries. On the left side, Logan Stanley is a divisive figure, but even his staunchest supporters (myself among them) wouldn’t expect him to jump in and contribute meaningfully for years.
Tucker Poolman has had his first shoulder surgery. Another coming up. Long summer of recovery for him.
— Sean Reynolds (@snseanreynolds) April 10, 2017
To sum up, the Jets need help in a couple of hugely important areas. That help isn’t going to come from within, at least not as soon as they’ll need it.
So Why Roslovic?
It bears repeating that this isn’t necessarily an endorsement of a Roslovic trade. Yet with Kyle Connor’s blistering second half with the Moose, the Jets already-loaded top six forwards, and the prospect of another forward possibly being added at the draft in two weeks (this draft is such a mess that nothing would surprise me), Roslovic may be the odd man out.
A lot depends on the expansion draft, but if the Jets manage to protect seven forwards that would leave them with a top-three centre group of Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, and Adam Lowry. That’s a tough group for Roslovic, a natural centre, to crack.
There may well be an opening in the Jets top nine after the expansion draft, but given his demolition of the AHL and his impressive one-game recall at the end of the year, I have to think that spot would be Connor’s to lose.
Now Bryan Little isn’t going to be around forever, and depending on the expansion draft Adam Lowry may not be either. And even if they are, Roslovic could slide over to wing without much difficulty. Natural centers do it all the time to make the jump to the NHL.
Furthermore, time is on Winnipeg’s side. Most of their best players are under 25, and the ones over 25 still have a few years left before the decline begins. The window isn’t closing, and even if Roslovic doesn’t make the NHL this year straight out of camp, there’s no huge rush to bring him along. The Jets don’t have a gun to their head to trade the young man.
Ironically, that may be the most compelling argument to trade him. The Jets are in a position of strength on this. If they get an offer that’s not acceptable, they can and indeed should say no. Roslovic doesn’t have one foot out the door by any means.
Somebody, however, is going to be the odd man out. The Jets need help, and they need it sooner than they’d like. With the nature of the salary cap, they can’t keep all their young forwards forever. The Jets cap hit isn’t overwhelming at the moment but it’s going to look a lot different this time next year when Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba, and Nikolaj Ehlers are all in line for big raises. And I don’t even want to speculate on what Patrik Laine is going to cost in summer of 2019. Whatever it is, you can be sure the Jets will pay it.
With that in mind, and knowing that the Jets are under pressure to get into the playoffs and maybe hang around a while this time, the Jets still don’t have to trade Roslovic. It’s not a foregone conclusion, and some would say it’s not even a likely one.
But let’s be clear folks. Changes are going to have to come sooner or later in Winnipeg. Jack Roslovic is not untouchable.