They both wanted out of Winnipeg, making that known in the form of public trade requests. Now that their wishes have been granted, Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic resisted taking any parting shots Saturday as they bid farewell to the organization, and the city, that welcomed them to the NHL.
Laine, 22, and Roslovic, 23, spoke by Zoom a few hours after they were traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for 22-year-old centre Pierre-Luc Dubois.
“Everyone knows how passionate the fans are and how loud the building gets. So it was an awesome place to play hockey. Probably my first game, it was something I will never forget. Playing there in front of the home crowd, in front of my family, that was really special,” Laine said of what he’ll remember, and miss, the most.
So how did things change so quickly, from a beloved second-overall draft pick in 2016 to a one-way ticket out of town less than five years later?
“Right now, I don’t even want to think about it. Just going to leave it behind me and take all the great memories I had with this team and my teammates with me and move on. I just think maybe that it wasn’t the right fit for me and the team. They have a lot of depth and a lot of great players, so I think it was just the team’s time and my time to move on,” said Laine.
“They’ve got a hell of a player in return, too. He’ll be a good player for the Jets. But I think it was just time for just to move on.”
Laine expressed shock at learning of the move, even though his agent, Mike Liut, called for a change of scenery several months ago and suggested it would be mutually beneficial for all parties. Many believe conflicts with Jets captain Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice, over issues such as his usage, were behind his desire for a new hockey home. If that’s true, Laine was taking the high road.
“I don’t think we had any negative conversation with Blake. It was usually positive. He’s a guy who leaves everything on the ice. I’m the same way, I get frustrated a lot and sometimes say things I shouldn’t say. But I think we had a good relationship,” he said. “And with Paul, too. He’s a good coach, he’s been coaching for a long time so he knows how to handle players. I think it was good.”
Laine is in the final year of a contract that pays him $6.75 million and will be a restricted free agent next summer with arbitration rights. He could become an unrestricted free agent after the 2022-23 season if not signed to a long-term extension by then. The internal belief that wouldn’t happen in Winnipeg is a big reason Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt the need to move him.
“I’m open, for sure. Hopefully that’s going to be a spot where I’m enjoying life, I’m enjoying playing hockey and everything I’ve heard about the organization and the city, it’s only positive things. They have a good, young team and hopefully I can bring my kind of playmaking abilities and my shooting abilities into the team and work as hard as I can and hopefully build something good,” said Laine.
Of course, much of what he’s heard comes from Roslovic, a native of Columbus who is thrilled to be heading home. The 25th-overall pick from the 2015 draft has actually remained in Ohio, as the RFA never signed a new deal with the Jets prior to this season. He quickly inked a two-year pact on Saturday that pays him $1.9 million per season.
“I’m really just excited about the opportunity. It just makes it that much sweeter that it’s in Columbus. I’m super happy to here. Obviously I grew up here, living here and watching the team play. It’s definitely just an extra cherry on top,” said Roslovic.
He is expecting to get an opportunity up the middle that just wasn’t available in Winnipeg.
“I think they’re excited to get a player who can play the full length of the ice, hopefully fill a center role, and with Patty coming in, really round out the offensive group and strive to make us a good team and a Cup-contending team,” said Roslovic, who holds no hard feelings.
“I don’t think there was ever frustration with the Jets or with Winnipeg. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I talked to my peers around the league and when you’re on a team that’s that good, there are sacrifices you need to make, and when you’re winning that many games, you’re usually willing. That’s the way I felt. Nothing bad to say. I don’t think there was ever not an opportunity. There are so many good players on that team. I hope nothing but the best for them.”
Laine believes it’s going to be a case of love at first sight between Blue Jackets fans and Roslovic, who should step right into the lineup this coming week.
“He’s a really good player. Obviously we haven’t seen his best in the NHL. Hopefully he’ll get a bigger role and more opportunity to show his skill-set. He’s one of the fastest skaters in the league, he has unbelievable hands. He can finish, too. I think he’s an all-around good offensive player. For him, as for myself, too, we’ve got to work on our defensive game. That’s going to come. He’s a really good player. All the Columbus fans are going to love the way he plays,” he said.
Laine had a terrific opening-night performance with the Jets which would ultimately be his last, scoring a pair of goals including the overtime winner against Calgary. A minor upper-body injury kept him out of the lineup for Winnipeg’s next three contests. His Columbus debut will be delayed by visa and quarantine issues which must first get settled.
He was asked Saturday he wants to be remembered by Winnipeg fans.
“Well, hopefully as a good guy. I’ve always tried to be myself and if somebody doesn’t like it, well, it’s too bad. Just being myself, I was always myself with the media, with the fans, on the ice. So hopefully, they will have good things to say about me,” he said.
“I always tried to be a good guy and a good teammate. So, hopefully they’ll have some good memories of No. 29.”
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