The situation in net for the Winnipeg Jets is rather… well, let’s use the word interesting. With Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck vying for their roster spot between the pipes, the phrase, “three’s a crowd” rings in our ears.
With expiring contracts, rising stars and deteriorating play, let’s take a look at the Jet’s crowded crease, and see what will come of this three’s company.
Pavelec is the oldest of the three, and also the longest-tenured; he has been with the Jets since they have been the Atlanta Thrashers. At 28 years old, the Czech native is still a bona fide option in net, although as a back up, but has recent struggles with injuries have compromised his play.
After returning from a knee injury on Feb. 13, Pavelec’s play started to worsen even. In 33 games played, he finished the season 13-13-4, with a 2.78 GAA, 0.904 save percentage and a single shutout. Along with injuries, Pavelec also struggles with rebound control and overall consistency.
Before this past year, Pavelec shined in 50 starts in 2014-15, registering a 22-16-8 record with a 2.28 GAA, 0.920 save mark and five shutouts. Though his career shows inconsistency, as well as overall statistics that resemble that of a back-up, he will likely find another team fast after his time with Winnipeg ends.
“Has outstanding puck-stopping instincts. Is a huge goaltender that covers a large portion of the net. Owns the capability of stealing games by himself. Never quits on a play and is a great athlete.” – The Hockey News
After the 2016-17 season, Pavelec will become an unrestricted free agent, unless the Jets decide to hang onto him. Given the situation, I find this unlikely, given there are two young, promising netminders waiting in the wings for their shot at the NHL.
After an outstanding 21-10-5 rookie campaign, Hutchinson finally cracked the NHL, only to experience the dreaded sophomore slump, where he played 30 games, going 9-15-3 and proving to struggle in shining over Connor Hellebuyck. Here’s a comparison of his two NHL campaigns:
|Michael Hutchinson||GAA||Save Percentage||Shutouts|
Despite the drop in impressive stats, Hutchinson has massive upside. He’s a quick butterfly goalie, and his unorthodox way of catching with his right hand makes him hard to match up against. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound netminder also has the perfect size for matching up and taking up the net, and will exceed in the NHL. However, he much learn to challenge more, as well as match up against shooters and use his size to cut off angles and be more aggressive.
Hutchinson has two years left on his deal, which pays him around $1.5 million per season, and as long as he continues to fight for his rightful spot in the NHL, he can make a big difference and be one of the Jets’ better options in net. However, he will likely have to compete with Hellebuyck, who is up-and-coming and can be the dark horse in the Jets’ crease.
As mentioned, there is not too much known of Hellebuyck’s potential in the NHL, but he is the dark horse looking to break in as one of the Jets’ eventual starters. He had a 26-game stint with Winnipeg this past season, going 13-11-1. He was superb in net, posting a 0.918 save mark, 2.34 GAA and two shutouts. and proved to be their top man this year, outplaying Pavelec and Hutchinson when given the nod.
The 6-foot-4, 207-pound goaltender has proven to be an excellent goaltender, and put up unbelievable stats as the starter for UMass-Lowell in his NCAA campaign. He continued his strong play with the Manitoba Moose, and capitalized on his short call-up stint with the Jets.
With his size, ability and determination, Hellebuyck has the potential to be a strong number-one netminder at the NHL level. However, given his lack of NHL experience, the question rises: has he completely proven himself, and if given the chance to play full-time, will he exceed expectations? There is also the possibility he could experience a slide in his sophomore year, much like Hutchinson.
Set to become a restricted free agent in 2017, Hellebuyck will have to prove himself capable of taking on full NHL minutes. I don’t see an issue with the Jets extending a qualifying offer.
It all boils down to the 2016-17 preseason. Perhaps Pavelec in the small sample makes himself look capable of remaining the starter, and will put the injuries and inconsistency behind him to show his true potential as a number-one NHL-er. Or, there’s the scenario that it’ll be Hutchinson taking over, and Hellebuyck earning his spot on the roster.
Granted, the Jets may have to wave one of these goaltenders to make space and limit their options, but if all goes well in training camp, I don’t see why the Jets would let go of Pavelec, when he is their most experienced option in net and has just one year left on his deal, and Hellebuyck is waiver exempt.
In the end, it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out, but for now, the Jets’ crease is a possibility.