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ST. PAUL — Jack Roslovic knew his first full season in the NHL was likely going to include some peaks and valleys. But even he was a bit surprised at the extreme nature of those highs and lows.
First career hat trick. Being named the NHL’s first star of the week. Promotion to the top unit of one of the league’s most potent power plays. All of those are highlights Roslovic will certainly cherish.
Bumped off the power play entirely. Dwindling minutes on the fourth line. A 23-game goal drought. Three straight games as a healthy scratch. These are the times that tested the Winnipeg Jets forward’s resolve.
The fact all of these events occurred in a two-month span is pretty incredible. But it underscores what a roller-coaster ride this has season has been for the 22-year-old first-round draft pick.
“It’s an uphill battle in this league, especially for a young guy trying to make his mark. It’s a good battle and good to get that compete level up. It makes everyone better and hopefully you get better yourself in the process,” Roslovic told the Free Press this week.
Roslovic certainly has appeared to make himself better since returning to the lineup last weekend, looking every bit like a player who doesn’t want to see the press box again. In his return Saturday, Roslovic’s line was the only one that appeared to have any jump in a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Roslovic was flying all night long, and chipped in an assist on his team’s lone goal, scored by Mathieu Perreault.
“A lot of rest,” is what Roslovic credited for the giddy-up in his step, an ode to watching three straight games in favour of veteran Matt Hendricks, who took his place in the lineup.
On Monday night, Roslovic came up big, scoring a pair of goals and looking dangerous all game in a 4-3 overtime victory against the Blackhawks in Chicago. Roslovic’s eighth and ninth goals of the season were the first he’s scored since Feb. 2, when hats rained down at Bell MTS Place for his three-goal effort against the Anaheim Ducks.
You can put that down as another one in the “peak” category.
“It was good to chip in like that, coming back into the lineup. I think it was just a product of our line, we’ve been pretty good when we’ve been together. I think that was kind of where we left off,” said Roslovic.
Indeed, the trio of Roslovic and Perreault with Andrew Copp in the middle has been very good and gives the Jets a potent fourth line that can be a matchup nightmare for opponents.
“They were connected in the offensive zone. They weren’t in the corners, 60 feet away from each other. Almost all of those passes they made were short, 10- to 15-foot passes. So they moved off each other very well, and then their legs were churning. They put a lot of effort into being good (Monday) night,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday.
As one clever reader suggested, perhaps the CPR line would be a good nickname — not only for their initials, but how they seemed to breathe life into a club that had looked dormant for three straight games, all losses.
Roslovic is up to nine goals and 15 assists in 74 games this season, after scoring five times and adding nine helpers in 34 games last season. Even with more than 100 NHL games under his belt, he’s still not taking anything for granted.
“I’m a young guy, (being scratched) probably will happen again. You just gotta be ready, you gotta be ready to go, stay mentally sharp and try to fight your hardest to stay in,” said Roslovic.
He appears to be doing just that, and the Jets are the beneficiaries.
“I think even when I hit 100 games it’s not a big milestone in the grand scheme of things, but you kind of feel like an established player a bit more. When you do things in this league that are pretty tough and are honourable (like NHL first star), it definitely keeps your confidence up,” said Roslovic.
Roslovic played in 10 playoff games last spring, chipping in with three assists, and hopes to make an even bigger impact this time around, now more comfortable in his role. He also isn’t worried about the recent up-and-down play of his team, which, quite frankly, mirrors a lot of what he’s gone through.
“You look at the first 70, however many we played before we went on what some people call a slump, and we were the best team in the Central. It’s a full season. Going into playoffs we know we’re a good team and have what it takes to win,” said Roslovic.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.