WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets' success of drafting and developing players likely will be put to the test again now that center Paul Stastny has signed with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Stastny, who came to the Jets from the St. Louis Blues in a trade Feb. 26, left as an unrestricted free agent Sunday, leaving an opening on Winnipeg's second line between right wing Patrik Laine and left wing Nikolaj Ehlers.
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The Jets, who reached the Western Conference Final last season thanks in part to the 15 points (six goals, nine assists) Stastny had in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games, almost certainly will have to find his replacement in-house because they're going to need most or all of their NHL salary cap space to sign seven players, including No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who are a restricted free agent. The player they choose to fill Stastny's role could be their most important decision trying to improve on their success from last season.
Looking at the roster, there appear to be two clear choices.
Veteran Bryan Little, 30, who had 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games last season, moved to the third line when Stastny arrived but has played center with Laine and Ehlers and could be the safe choice.
But if the Jets, who have a history of putting younger players in bigger roles, want to use their draft-and-develop approach, they may see if Jack Roslovic, 21, is ready for the assignment.
Roslovic, the No. 25 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, split last season between the Jets and Manitoba of the American Hockey League.
He had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 31 games for the Jets, playing mostly on the third and fourth lines while earning coach Paul Maurice's trust, and 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) in 32 games for Manitoba. Roslovic is used to skating with world-class talent, having played wing on a line with Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team in 2014-15.
"There are lots of options for [Maurice] to mix and match," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "And Jack, we all saw he brought great energy and skill to our lineup, and he's made great strides. It will be a good opportunity for him."
Though Stastny proved to be a great addition, with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 19 regular-season games followed by his strong playoff output, the Jets hardly were in dire straits when they traded a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the rights to forward prospect Erik Foley, and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to St. Louis.
Winnipeg had 83 points and was second in the Central Division, two points behind the Nashville Predators, and fifth in the NHL standings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (89), Vegas Golden Knights (87), Predators (85) and Toronto Maple Leafs (84) at the time.
Video: WPG@MTL: Roslovic buries Poolman's sweet dish
The Jets finished second in the Central and NHL standings with 114 points, three behind the Presidents' Trophy-winning Predators. Winnipeg defeated Nashville in the Western Conference Second Round but lost to Vegas in five games in the Western Conference Final.
Stastny's spot is not the only one open in the Jets lineup.
Forward Joel Armia, who had 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) playing up and down the lineup because of Winnipeg's 285 man-games lost to injury, was traded to the Montreal Canadiens with goaltender Steve Mason and two draft picks for defenseman Simon Bourque on June 30. The trade was made in the hopes of opening enough space under the salary cap to re-sign Stastny. Now, each spot is open.
If Roslovic is promoted, that could open spots for forwards Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen.
Appleton, 22, was picked by the Jets in the sixth round (No. 168) of the 2015 NHL Draft. He was the AHL rookie of the year last season, finishing fourth with 66 points (22 goals, 44 assists) in 76 games for Manitoba.
Vesalainen, 19, the No. 24 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, had 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists) in 49 games last season with HPK and Karpat in Liiga, the top league in Finland. He helped Karpat win the championship with eight points (four goals, four assists) in 18 playoff games.
"Competition is always essential," Cheveldayoff said. "Everybody's got one more year of experience, and I think they're going to hopefully use the time throughout the summer to hopefully help us have some more difficult problems when it becomes time for training camp.
"[Vesalainen] came over to development camp and you can tell he's a much more mature person, he's a big body, he can skate. Playing over in the Finnish men's league over there and having a great season, it's exciting when you see another young player that can make an impact. There's lots of competition."
Before training camp begins, Cheveldayoff has plenty of his own work to do.
In addition to Hellebuyck, top-pair defensemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, forwards Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev and Marko Dano, and defenseman Tucker Poolman also are restricted free agents.
Cheveldayoff said he was fairly confident he'll get those contracts worked out.
"There are steps along the way in the process," he said. "Everyone knows them. We're becoming a mature organization and a mature market to understand every summer, July 1, there are arbitrations, and every summer you go through the different processes of things.
"We don't anticipate from that standpoint that additional (roster) surgery would be needed. When you see the whole thing come together ... we feel like we're in a good spot with our projections."