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 it’s 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.
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 best netminders to play for the Thrashers/Jets in franchise history.
1. Ondrej Pavelec
The number one goalie in Atlanta/Winnipeg history just so happens to be the franchise’s current goaltender – Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec was drafted in the second round (41st overall) by the Thrashers in the summer of 2005 and has remained with the franchise ever since.
In parts of 10 seasons with the organization, the Czech native is 152-158-47 with a .907 save percentage and a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.87. He happens to own just about every goaltending record for the franchise as well, from games played (379), to shots against (10,984), and shutouts (17). He’s also been the longest serving goaltender to stick with the franchise, so that definitely helps his bid in earning milestones with the organization.
Though Pavelec was demoted to the Jets’ AHL affiliate team earlier this year, the 29-year-old is back with the Jets and trying to re-establish himself at the NHL level while competing with up and coming netminder Connor Hellebuyck. Pavelec, however, remains on the team’s injured reserve list and is trying to bounce back from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the lineup for a number of games. Should we expect Pavelec to bounce back and reclaim his starting role in Winnipeg? Only time will tell.
2. 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.
Lehtonen would wrap up his five years in Atlanta with a 94-83-17 record, a .912 save percentage and a 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 Pavelec as previously mentioned. He still owns one record worth mentioning however – off all the netminders to suit up for at least 100 games with the franchise, Lehtonen is number one in save percentage with a percentage of .912. Let’s see if Pavelec eventually steals that from him too as his numbers aren’t too far off the way they stand.
3. Johan Hedberg
Though Hedberg was never a starter with the franchise, he was very good in his role as a backup with the organization and backstopped the team to a few wins during his time there. He was never regarded as a top-tier backup during his career, but “Moose” certainly knew how to hold his own and managed to stick around the league for a number of years.
Hedberg would go 57-47-14 during his time with the Thrashers, playing parts of 137 contests with the franchise from 2007-10. He eventually walked away with a .900 save percentage and a GAA of 3.08 – fairly standard numbers for a backup goaltender playing for a non-playoff team at the time. While Hedberg was well-respected and appreciated for his role in Atlanta, the native of Sweden packed his bags and finished off his career with the New Jersey Devils to backup legend Martin Brodeur, a tough opportunity to pass up no doubt. Hedberg is now a goaltending coach and assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks, a team he’s been with since the 2015-16 season.
With the franchise still being so young, and with what little sample we’ve been given so far, we can only imagine what the future holds in terms of goaltending history for the Winnipeg Jets. Will Ondrej Pavelec continue to build on his legacy with the franchise? Will Connor Hellebuyck take the reins at the young age of 23? Or are we still waiting for the next great masked-man to come through “The Peg”? Let the waiting game begin.