In case you’ve missed it, we are currently midway through our summer series where we are dissecting the value of each Jets contract. We started with the worst contracts on the roster here, before moving onto some of the other deals that aren’t too favourable. Part three is where we started coming across players that are getting paid fairly for the services they provide.
While there are still plenty of valuable contracts ahead, today we are going to take a break and examine the youngsters on the roster. We will have to look at these a bit differently because these deals weren’t negotiated the same way as the rest of the team. With the high degree of regulations and standards, there aren’t too many options when it comes to signing new players into the NHL.
Instead of giving each player a rating, we will discuss their role with the team and offer some speculation of what a future contract might look like. While the Jets organization has a number of players on entry level contracts, we are going to focus on the four most prominent players at the moment. There will be another day to discuss the future of some of the other depth pieces in the organization.
Roslovic is currently the only player on an entry level contract that is guaranteed a roster spot heading into training camp. Since turning pro in 2016-17 he consistently improved each season and finally made the full time jump to the NHL last year.
Roslovic certainly has the scoring touch as he nearly averaged a point per game through his time with the Moose organization. If he can keep improving at the NHL level, the Jets will gladly use his skill for years to come. The one issue with Roslovic is the lack of room on the roster. As multi-positional player, Roslovic isn’t going to bump any of the starting centres from their spots, but the top six wing position is also locked up. This leaves Roslovic as a depth winger even though he might be much higher on other team’s depth charts.
This usage, or lack thereof, contributed to some rumours that Roslovic wasn’t too happy with his situation in the organization. While that’s totally understandable, the Jets aren’t likely to trade a young, cost controlled asset that can move up when injuries arise. This is exactly what happened last year as Roslovic had a great run in the middle of the year when he moved up in the lineup. This even included the first hat-trick of his career on February 2 against the Ducks.
Roslovic has the potential to provide tremendous value to the club, especially if he continues to play well on the second powerplay unit. If injuries arise, he will need to be ready to seize the moment in the top six and never look back.
The current contract is running out at the end of next season for Roslovic. As for the next contract, he’s likely not going to sign long-term if he doesn’t see a top six role open up. A bridge deal might make the most sense for both parties as the Jets don’t want to lose a skilled player for nothing.
Perhaps the surprise of last season, Appleton had a meteoric rise over the last two years. After foregoing his sophomore season at Michigan State University, Appleton decided to turn pro as he headed to the Moose. He surprised everyone by scoring 66 points in 76 games and coming home as the AHL rookie of the year.
Appleton was given an outside chance at making the team last season but was sent back down to the Moose after training camp. A few months later his after the dust settled, he made his NHL debut when a few players went down with injury. During his 36 game stretch, Appleton played on the fourth line but still managed to come away with three goals and seven assists.
This solid stretch of hockey gives Appleton a clear advantage among his peers who are trying to crack the lineup next season.
Appleton is currently in the final year of his ELC and there are still lots of questions regarding his future. Can he make the full time jump to the NHL next season? If so, can he replicate his success from last year? How much more is he still going to develop? Are there plans to have him further up the lineup in the future?
While all of these questions will be answered at a later date, the most likely scenario is that Winnipeg signs Appleton to a series of shorter contracts as he figures out his role in the organization.
Also entering the final year of his ELC, Sami Niku is hoping to finally make his mark with the Jets next season. Although Niku spent majority of last season with the Jets, he also spent a lot of time in the pressbox as he was the 7th defensemen for a number of weeks.
Even though Niku managed to play 30 games last year, his on ice results left lots to be desired. He finished near the bottom of the team in nearly every advanced metric although he did play most of the year with Ben Chiarot who historically has struggled apart from Byfuglien. Regardless of the numbers, Niku projects to be in the mix for a roster spot next season. His ability to play both sides of the blueline is a massive asset as he can move around the lineup and play with any partner. There’s a lot of players hoping to stay in the lineup which should help create some healthy competition.
Niku has all the skills required for a modern day defensmen. Great skating ability along with strong offensive instincts make him a threat on the ice. His results should also start to improve as he becomes more comfortable with the speed and skill of the NHL.
Niku’s next contract will entirely depend how this season goes. If he works his way into the top four and has a stellar season, the Jets might try and ink him to a fairly long contract for stability. On the other hand, if he stays as the 7th defensmen, the Jets might only sign him to a one or two year deal until he fully develops his game.
Unlike the rest of the players we looked at today, Vesalainen is still going into the first year of his contract. In a bizarre course of events last season, Vesalainen ended up going back to Europe after playing just five NHL games. This meant his entry level contract was able to slide and begin one season later, which is 2019-20. For the organization, that move will be very helpful because Vesalainen will stay cost-controlled for one extra season. In addition, Vesalainen has gained another year of experience playing professional hockey in Europe and should be able to make a smooth transition to the NHL this year.
If Vesalainen can live up to the hype, he might become one of the most valuable pieces for the Jets in the next three years. Any time players on ELC’s can contribute, it allows the team to spend money elsewhere to help the roster.
The one downside when looking in the future is that Vesalainen could be in for a huge contract when his ELC is done. While some players get smaller contracts when they are still RFA’s, Vesalainen will have three full seasons to prove his worth before negotiating his next contract.
In the meantime, enjoy the low cost prospect who will certainly make his mark next season.