Winnipeg Jets are set up for the future: Goalies

It’s one thing to be good, it’s another entirely to be good and young.

I wrote an article in the Winnipeg Free Press last Saturday, saying that underlying metrics say good things about the 2014-15 Winnipeg Jets. The Jets’ strong numbers –such as in score adjusted Corsi percentage (SAC%)– are a positive sign. While points and wins show where a team stands at a single moment, shot metrics are important because they better predict how a team will perform for the remainder of the season.

There are seven teams in the NHL who currently hold a better SAC% than the Winnipeg Jets. The real kicker though is only the Tampa Bay Lightning consist of a younger average roster.

The Jets’ youth has not just been passengers, but have driven a lot of the success as well. In this series we will look at the Jets depth in each position, while specifically focusing on those under 25 and making a NHL impact.

Today we turn to the final bastion of defense: those crazy enough to take 30+ frozen pucks to the body a game.

Goaltending

The Youth

When you are a near average team in terms of shot differentials, goaltending will make or break you. The emergence of Michael Hutchinson has made the Jets (except recently).

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The sample here has been expanded to include last year, as most goalie statistics require large sample sizes to become relevant and any bit helps.

Michael Hutchinson features above average numbers in every category: both regular save percentage and shot-location adjusted save percentage at even strength and all situations. While a small sample limits the predictive prowess of future success, they are fairly descriptive of past performance.

Hutchinson also boasts an impressive quality start percentage (QS%). The statistic measures how often Hutchinson either a) posts above league average save percentage or b) allows two goals against or less with above replacement level save percentage. Quality starts are based off of the probability a league average team wins a game.

There are some that feel as though Hutchinson came out of nowhere, but the 23 year old has flown under the radar as an underrated netminder for quite some while. His career performance in junior relative to his peers in the same time period is comparable to that of many NHL players including Carey Price (obviously that’s more ceiling than average potential).

Hutchinson’s career AHL numbers are far above average with a 0.921 save percentage. He also graduated with a great run, stoping over 92 percent of the shots he faced and dragging a team to the finals. Unfortunately, a lack of goal support and Malcolm Subban moving to pro meant no room for the Barrie, Ontario native. A loss for the Boston organization and a win for the Jets.

The Veterans

There are only two goaltenders on a NHL squad, so the next person should be fairly obvious.

The general populace has moved from exalting Ondrej Pavelec as the undisputed MVP to the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Pavelec is a NHL calibre goaltender regardless. His career save percentage sits one percentage point above the average for back up goaltenders.

While shot quality impact can often be overstated, it is entirely possible that the combined defensive effort of the Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets have cost Pavelec a percentage point or two.

The Future

There is always the possibility of a unforeseen failure in a prospect, but none more so than goaltenders. There is a saying in the hockey analytics blogosphere: goalies are voodoo.

Voodoo or not, the Jets have done well in hedging their bets. The Jets have drafted multiple NCAA in the mid-to-late rounds.

The best of the bunch being Connor Hellebuyck. While goaltenders are voodoo, there is no harm in gambling on the best goaltender in NCAA history for career save percentage. Even more impressive is his 0.926 save percentage on a bottom five shot metric team in the AHL.

The other two NCAA netminders, Jason Kasdorf and Jamie Phillips have been pretty impressive as well.

There is one more excellent addition. The Jets also have bluechip netminder Eric Comrie in their prospects cupboard. Comrie is arguably a top three talent in the CHL in terms save percentage relative to peers.

In Closing

When the Atlanta Thrashers moved over to Winnipeg, they didn’t bring with them much in terms of goaltenders. Kevin Cheveldayoff though changed things quickly through both free agency and the draft.

The Jets have amassed depth from top to bottom. They have a potential top-tier goaltender in his prime with Michael Hutchinson. They also carry two bluechip prospects with Connor Hellebuyck in the AHL and Eric Comrie in the WHL.