Jack Roslovic Returns to Play for the Columbus Blue Jackets
A blockbuster trade brought back native son Jack Roslovic. Now he has the rare chance to shine for his hometown team.
Jack Roslovic was at an impasse. He’d earned his roster spot with the Winnipeg Jets after they picked him in the 2015 NHL draft, yet he struggled for more playing time. He skipped this season’s training camp while hoping for a trade, instead spending his time skating with the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets, the youth program that groomed him before he became the first Columbus-born player selected in the draft’s first round. As the NHL season began without him, he and AAA president Ed Gingher often talked about where he might land. How cool would Columbus be?
On Jan. 23, it happened: The Columbus Blue Jackets traded their own disgruntled center, Pierre-Luc Dubois, to Winnipeg in exchange for Roslovic and Patrik Laine, a 22-year-old winger. Laine was the headliner, a former second overall pick with more goals in his young career than Roslovic and Dubois combined. But Roslovic seized the opportunity, showcasing his skill while posting more points than the other two over the next seven weeks. His most memorable moment came in a tied game in February, when he did a slick do-si-do between two Carolina Hurricanes and backhanded the game-winning shot through the goaltender’s legs. It was gorgeous, and Roslovic made it look easy.
This is the stuff of childhood fantasy. Yet NHL players rarely get to shine for their hometown teams. Roslovic isn’t the first native son to skate for Columbus; that honor goes to Kole Sherwood, who plays for the Jackets’ minor-league affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, and has competed sparingly for Columbus in recent years. But Roslovic is the first to score a goal, or a game-winner, or to make good on his dreams nightly.
He’s been a fan nearly since birth. His parents have had season tickets since the Jackets’ inception in 2000, when he was 3. From ages 10 to 16, he played for the AAA team, which has been developing local players since 2004. He decided to train with the youth program earlier this year to give back, to follow the example of pros like Cam Atkinson, who’s been supportive of him for years. “I remember how nice it was when the guys that were playing in the NHL came to our practice, and I remember how much I cherished it,” Roslovic says.
Now, he plays alongside Atkinson, who has seen his production rise since Roslovic joined him on the Jackets’ top line. Players dream of competing for the teams they grew up admiring, Atkinson says, but there’s also added pressure, which he watched his good friend Kevin Shattenkirk navigate with the New York Rangers. “It could be the best thing ever if you’re playing well, or if you’re not playing so well you could get booted out of town pretty quickly.”
Roslovic acknowledges that pressure, albeit largely self-imposed right now. He’s been playing with a chip on his shoulder to prove he can be a top-line center, to take advantage of the chance he’s been given. Gingher knows how much pride Roslovic takes in donning his No. 96 Blue Jackets jersey, in playing for the city, and he believes fans will respond in kind. “Once there’s crowds back in Nationwide, I’m sure there’s going to be a few more 96 jerseys running around that building [on] the kids that are playing hockey in Columbus.”