The 6’4 goaltender extraordinaire Connor Hellebuyck was not drafted in his first draft eligible season. The next year Hellebuyck took the NAHL by storm, winning goaltender of the year, rookie of the year, and nominated to the All-NAHL Team and the All-Rookie Team after posting a 0.930 save percentage.
Since then, Hellebuyck has not looked back.
We continue our summer prospect profile series, checking in at #3.
The Jets drafted Hellebuyck in the 5th round, 130th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft after his exceptional year in the NAHL.
The following two seasons saw Hellebuyck destroy the NCAA with 0.952 and 0.941 save percentages. He went to the Frozen Four qualifying tournaments both years, and even made the semi-finals in 2013.
Hellebucyk graduated with a 0.946 save percentage with 53 games played, which is still the highest multiyear graduating save percentage in NCAA history. The young netminder left school with a 38-12-2 record, where Hellebuyck has as many regulation loses as he does shutouts.
The number of awards Hellebuyck won over his two year tenure at the collegiate is a list longer than needing to be typed out, but there one of note was that Hellebuyck won the inaugural Mike Richter Award for the NCAA’s top collegiate goaltender.
Hellebuyck left the NCAA the next year to start his pro-level career, starting for the St. John’s IceCaps for his rookie season. The St. John’s IceCaps were the lowest scoring team in the Eastern Conference, yet Hellebuyck carried a 32-22-6 record.
In his rookie season Hellebuyck posted a 0.921 save percentage, which ironically was the lowest save percentage since his NAHL season, despite how exceptional a 0.921 is in a 0.912 average league. For context, Ondrej Pavelec had a 0.912 career AHL save percentage while Michael Hutchinson had a 0.917 save percentage. Hellebuyck was nominated to the AHL All-Star game for his exceptional play.
The US National Team took Hellebuyck as their starter for the World Championships, where Hellebuyck posted a tournament high 0.948 save percentage, won the bronze medal, and was nominated as top three players on team USA.
Friend of the blog, Greg Balloch of InGoal Magazine, ranked Connor Hellebuyck as the best NHL goaltender prospect in his Top 50 list.
Balloch had this to say about Hellebuyck:
Hellebuyck is huge in the net, but is not saddled with many of the issues that are commonly associated with large goaltenders. He is a strong skater, and takes advantage of that by being smart about his butterfly usage. He does not sit back and rely on his size do the work. His lateral pushes are explosive, but he stays within himself due to an understanding of the type of positioning that works best for a goalie of his size. It’s very rare to see Hellebuyck scramble out of position, which is a sign of a goaltender that knows his limits and is in complete control.
Hellebuyck could very well be the best goaltender not in the NHL.
Paul Maurice spoke over the summer on him viewing pre-season as a time to get his starter and back up ready for the regular season. From this it sounds like the goaltending depth positions have already been selected and the status quo will be kept.
Expect to see Hellebuyck starting for the Manitoba Moose next year while carrying a large workload. Depending on his performance, and the performance of Hutchinson and Pavelec in the NHL, Hellebuyck could be in the NHL as a regular as early as 2016-17. Hutchinson hits restricted free agency in 2016 and Pavelec would be movable in the final year of his contract.
Here are some highlights of Connor Hellebuyck in his AHL rookie season, courtesy of Jets Nations’ own Anthony Lenting: