WINNIPEG - After years of hard work and sacrifice, Winnipeg Jets prospect Jack Roslovic is now only days away from living out a childhood dream.
Roslovic, along with fellow 2015 first-round pick Kyle Connor, were recalled from the Manitoba Moose on Monday and could both be inserted for Thursday's game against the team Roslovic - a proud Columbus native - grew up cheering for, the Blue Jackets.
"Obviously being from a small hockey market like Columbus and watching it grow, it would be really cool," Roslovic said before the Jets flew to St. Louis to begin a two-game road trip. "It's really exciting. I've been working on my game so I could get to this point, and getting to be here for these last few games is good."
Roslovic, 20, has had an outstanding rookie campaign, leading the Moose with 13 goals and 45 points in only 61 games, earning an AHL All-Star nod because of it, and winning a gold medal with Team USA at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship in between.
Roslovic showed well and was one of the final cuts at his first NHL training camp last fall, but knew he had to develop more of a 200-foot game to succeed at the pro level.
Only six months later, he's on the cusp of his NHL debut.
"I've made a lot of strides in my game and have become more of a complete player," he said. "(Moose) Coach (Pascal) Vincent was obviously an assistant with Paul (Maurice) last year, and he expects the same out of me that Paul would. Preparing for the next level was the goal for this year and I think I've done pretty well just trying to get there."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Going back to his time with the highly regarded U.S. Development Program, Roslovic has become synonymous with the growth and popularity of hockey in his home state. Compare the landscape now to when the NHL first expanded there back in 2000. The market has grown rapidly and with players like Roslovic making it big in the pros, aspiring hockey players not only have better opportunities now than they ever have, but they have a local paragon to help drive them.
He's proud of that, and hopes to continue inspiring young athletes in the Columbus area for years to come.
Growing up, Roslovic played with the Ohio AAA Midget Blue Jackets and was a big supporter of the NHL club from Day 1. To this day, his parents are loyal season ticket holders and will assuredly be on hand in their usual spot behind the visitors' bench to support their son on Thursday.
The message from Head Coach Paul Maurice? Enjoy it and soak it all in, kid.
"You don't want to attach a whole lot of permanence going into one game," he said. "If he's -3 it doesn't mean his career is over and if he's +3 he's not getting the 10-year deal. It's a bit of a payoff for a year's work that was solid."
For Connor, it's a similar story.
It's all about development.
The 17th pick in 2015 started the year with the Jets but had only four points (1G, 3A) in 19 games before being re-assigned to the Moose on Dec. 9. Since then, he's been one of the American Hockey League's hottest players, recording at least a point in 14 of his last 17 games (15G, 9A), and was recently named the AHL's Player of the Week.
Overall, the product of Shelby Township, Michigan, has 42 points (23G, 19A) in 49 AHL games.
"It took a bit, but when he went down to the Moose he made some improvements in the areas of the game that are part of the growth that he's going to need to play regularly here," Maurice said.
Connor returns as a more confident, more complete player now than at the beginning of the season when the adjustment to the pro game proved challenging.
"(Confidence) is a big part of this game and when you have it, you can get into a groove," said Connor, a 2016 Hobey Baker finalist. "I've improved everywhere. I'm winning more battles around the ice and just learning how to play more of a pro style of game.
"I just want to go out there and continue to play the way I've been playing and to try and have some fun, too."
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com