The Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise is a fairly young organization, having been in existence since just the 1999-00 season when the team underwent its inception into the NHL. As a result, you can probably guess that not many goaltenders have found their way passing through Atlanta or Winnipeg during those years and that their all-time goalies list is a little depleted – well, you’d be guessing right.
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When ranking the top three Thrashers/Jets goalies of all-time, the masked men listed will be nominated based on their play during their stay in Atlanta or Winnipeg, rather than their overall careers. Here are the three best netminders to play for the Thrashers/Jets in franchise history.
3 – Kari Lehtonen
The Atlanta Thrashers made a bold move by selecting the then 18-year-old Kari Lehtonen out of Finland with the second overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, one of the highest goalies to ever be selected in league history. Unfortunately for the Thrashers, however, Lehtonen would go on to have a sub-par stint in Atlanta before eventually being traded to the Dallas Stars midway through the 2009-10 season.
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Lehtonen would wrap up his five years in Atlanta with a 94-83-17 record, a .912 save percentage (SV%) and a goals against average (GAA) of 2.87 in 194 starts. His strongest season came in 2006-07 when he led the Thrashers to a division title, going 34-24-9 while posting four shutouts and getting Atlanta to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Sadly for Lehtonen and the Thrashers, the New York Rangers would sweep them in four games to bounce them out of contention in the first round that same year.
At the time Lehtonen was traded to the Stars he was the franchise’s leader in just about every goaltending category, but now most of those honours belong to goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and Connor Hellebuyck. He is now sitting third in shutouts with 14, second in save percentage and fourth in goals against average that I mentioned earlier,
2 – Ondrej Pavelec
At second best I have Pavelec who was drafted in the second round (41st overall) by the Thrashers in the summer of 2005 and remained with the franchise until the end of the 2016-17 season. He would go on to sign a one-year contract with the New York Rangers in the summer of 2017 and he retired in September 2018.
In parts of 10 seasons with the organization, the Czech native is 152-158-47 with a .907 SV% and a GAA of 2.87. He still owns the franchise record for wins (152), games played (379), shots against (10,984), and saves (9961). He is also still the longest-serving goaltender in franchise history.
Pavelec’s best season came with the Jets in the 2014-15 season when he led them back to the playoffs for the first time since the Jet 1.0 days. He registered a career-best .920 SV% that season and picked up 22 wins and five shutouts.
I can remember him coming up huge down the stretch run of the regular season and being a big reason the Jets made the playoffs. He had his ups and downs, that is for sure, but hopefully, fans remember him for the good times – he gave a lot to both organizations and communities.
1 – Connor Hellebuyck
My number one goalie is the franchise’s current starter Connor Hellebuyck. He has given the Jets the spark they have needed since he joined the team in the 2015-16 season and his overall record speaks volumes to that. He currently sits with a 138-80-21 record, by far the best of any Jets/Thrashers goalie to have played over 100 games.
Hellebuyck was drafted by the Jets in the fifth round (130th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He started to really make a name for himself when he was with the University of Massachusetts Lowell (NCAA Division 1). He helped the team to a Frozen Four appearance as a freshman in 2012-13 and he was awarded the inaugural Mike Richter Award as the top goaltender in college hockey in the 2013-14 season.
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It was at that point the Jets and their fans knew they had struck gold and found their goalie of the future. Hellebuyck played a season and a half with the Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate St. Johns IceCaps and eventual Manitoba Moose before making the jump to the NHL full time.
Hellebuyck has not looked back since and he has helped the team to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He was runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in 2018 to Pekka Rinne and he is in contention once again this season thanks to his stellar play.
He recently passed Pavelec for the franchise lead in shutouts with 18 and he has a franchise-best .916 SV%. I think it is safe to say he will eventually pass Pavelec in every category, but only time will tell.
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