Manitoba Moose defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic has embraced the role of a leader amidst a flurry of fresh faces.
Even if it’s just his second full season with the team.
Having joined the American Hockey League club at the tail end of the 2018-2019 campaign, Kovacevic is the longest tenured player on the Manitoba blueline.
Roster turnover is nothing new to the 23-year-old, who played three seasons of NCAA hockey at Merrimack College, in Massachusetts.
“We had an older team last year, and now this year there aren’t a lot of returning guys coming back to the Moose,” said Kovacevic, in a Tuesday interview. “Honestly, it’s similar to college in a way, because you’re only there for four years, there’s big turnover and you have to mature and be a leader pretty quickly”
The Jets’ 2017 third round pick is handling his business on the ice, recording an assist in two of his last three games, but it’s his leadership off the ice that has impressed assistant coach Richard Bue.
“(Kovacevic) is a veteran on our blueline, especially with all the young kids,” said Bue, on a Tuesday media availability session. “He’s been around other guys before him, and he’s definitely leading the way in terms of off-ice, how to become a pro, (and) being ready.”
Kovacevic cites previous Moose captain Peter Stoykewych, and former Merrimack teammate Collin Delia (current goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks), as influential leaders of his past, but he is hesitant to completely emulate their style.
“You have to do it your own way … being genuine and honest is an important part of being a leader,” said Kovacevic. “It’s nice to pick a piece, pick bits from other people, but I think that a lot of it has to come from your personality, and who you are.”
His experience has assisted him in transitioning to this new role, but it’s his current team’s chemistry and camaraderie that has made things simple.
“I really like the makeup of the guys we have,” said Kovacevic. “We have a lot of really great people. It definitely makes things easier, and there are a lot of genuine relationships.”