Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck: From Fifth-Rounder to Shutout Leader

With a 41-save shutout against the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place, Connor Hellebuyck became the Winnipeg Jets’ all-time leader in shutouts with 18, surpassing Ondrej Pavelec.

In recognition of the milestone, here’s an look at Hellebuyck’s progression from a fifth-round pick to the Jets’ franchise goaltender and at his play during each season, as well as brief look back at each of the 18 times over his five NHL seasons he stymied all comers.

2015-16: Hellebuyck Impresses in Rookie Season

Hellebuyck’s first true NHL opportunity came in Nov. 2015, after Ondrej Pavelec β€” who was splitting the big-league goaltending duties with Michael Hutchinson β€” was injured after being bowled over by former Jet 1.0 Shane Doan, of all people, in a game versus the Arizona Coyotes. The season prior, Hellebuyck dressed as the backup for one game, but didn’t see any action.

Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets, NHL
Ondrej Pavelec’s injury led to Hellebuyck’s first NHL opportunity. (Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

The recall came three-and-a-half years after general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff chose Hellebuyck in the fifth round, 130th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. It also came in the Manitoba Moose’s first season back in Winnipeg.

In May 2015, True North Sports & Entertainment decided to relocate their AHL affiliate in St. Johns to the same rink as their NHL squad. This meant the then-22-year old simply had to cross the hall.

“I woke up in the same bed as usual and I drove to the same rink as usual. Pretty easy,” he said at the time. (from ‘Jets call up Hellebuyck after Pavelec injured by Doan hit’, Winnipeg Free Press, 11/22/2015.)

Hellebuyck shone in the AHL before making the jump: he posted a 28-22-5 record with a 2.58 goals against average (GAA), .921 save percentage (SV%), and six shutouts with the St. Johns’ IceCaps in 2014-15 and was selected to the AHL All-Star Classic.

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets, NHL, Fantasy Hockey
Hellebuyck, seen here in 2015, made 26 starts in his rookie season. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

He made his NHL debut on Nov. 27, stopping 14 of 15 shots in a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. Between then and mid-February β€” when he was reassigned to the Moose β€” he lived up to the hype surrounding him, posting a 13-11-1 record with a 2.34 GAA and .918 SV%.

2015-16 Shutouts: 2

Dec. 27. 2015 versus Penguins

Hellebuyck didn’t wait long to post his first-career shutout β€” it came in his ninth-career start when he turned away 30 shots in a 1-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bryan Little had the game’s only goal, scored in the first period on a penalty shot.

“I remember coming back from Christmas β€” I had a good Christmas β€” and had a lot of momentum this game,” Hellebuyck recalled last month when looking at back at the highlight reel, in which he stoned Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz and got some help from 6-foot-8 Tyler Myers, who sprawled across the goal line during a mad scramble to keep the puck out.

Jan. 15, 2016 at Wild

Hellebuyck’s second and final shutout of his rookie season also came in a 1-0 victory, this time at the Xcel Energy Center versus the Minnesota Wild. Blake Wheeler scored 3:07 into the first period and Hellebuyck made it stand up as the game-winner, stopping 24 shots.

2016-17: Hellebuyck Struggles as the Starter

Hellebuyck beat out Pavelec for the starters’ job in 2016-17, but his campaign was a mixed bag. The still-green goalie wilted a bit under the pressure of a larger workload. His goaltending partner Michael Hutchinson, who played very well the season prior, regressed mightily; Hellebuyck had to pick up the slack.

Hellebuyck experienced some struggles in his first season as a starter. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In his 53 starts, the sophomore was sometimes outstanding. More often, though, he was subpar and proved he was not yet ready to haul the Jets to the postseason, offensively-talented as they were.

He allowed five or more goals on eight occasions and posted a 2.89 GAA, .907 SV%, and recorded four shutouts as the Jets finished fifth in the Central.

2016-17 Shutouts: 4

Nov. 15, 2016 versus Blackhawks

Hellebuyck made 27 saves and won his fourth straight start as the Blackhawks paid a visit to then-MTS Centre. The game was tight until the third period, when Chris Thorburn, Patrik Laine, and Nic Petan all scored in a 4:02 span to widen the lead to 4-0 from 1-0.

Nov. 27, 2016 versus Predators

Hellebuyck’s next victory was also a shutout. It came 12 days later after he lost four straight starts (and the team lost five straight) after blanking the Blackhawks. This time, he made 42 saves and the Jets won 3-0 (with two empty-netters) avenging a 5-1 loss to their budding rival two nights before in the process.

Jan. 9, 2017 versus Flames

28 saves from their goaltender was just what the Jets needed in this early-January matchup with the Calgary Flames to get back to .500.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets, Calder Trophy
Patrik Laine and the rest of the Jets wore their Heritage Classic duds in Hellebuyck’s third shutout of the season. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

Decked out in the gorgeous Heritage Classic jersey, Hellebuyck looked sharp in more ways than one as he made a big pad stop on Sean Monahan in the first and a glove save on Michael Frolik in the dying seconds, among others.

March 3, 2017 versus Blues

Hellebuyck’s final clean sheet of the season was another one where he was integral in protecting a one-goal lead for a long period of time and before scoring two empty-netters.

Blake Wheeler scored 10:51 into the first and no one scored again until 17:44 of the third period, when Bryan Little notched the first of his team’s two yawning-cage tallies.

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler, in his first season as captain, scored two goals in the game β€” a first-period power-play marker and an empty netter. (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

“It’s huge,” said Hellebuyck, who had been yanked in his prior start after allowing five goals on 21 shots to the Minnesota Wild. With the win, the Jets pulled within three points of the Blues for fourth in the Central.

“It’s a four-point game, and we’re kind of chasing them right now. We do want to make the playoffs, and that’s our goal here, so this is another good step in the right direction,” Hellebuyck said.

Ultimately, the Jets failed to reach that goal as they finished seven points out of a playoff spot despite winning seven straight to end the season.

2017-18: Hellebuyck Shines in Record-Setting Season

In 2017-18, Hellebuyck enjoyed a breakout season, posting a career-high 44 wins, a 2.36 GAA, .924 SV%, and six shutouts. His consistency, competitiveness, calmness, and mettle were all sights to behold as the big, positionally sound backstop stole countless games. The Jets captured a franchise-record 52 wins and went to the Western Conference Final thanks in large part to their large masked man.

Related: Hellebuyck Deserves Vezina Consideration

He did this despite not being pegged as the starter coming into the season. Due to his up-and-down 2017-18, the Jets signed veteran Steve Mason to a two-year deal in the offseason and expected him to be their number-one guy. Hellebuyck, meanwhile, signed a one-year “shape up or ship out” deal to avoid arbitration.

Jets goalie Steve Mason
Steve Mason, not Connor Hellebuyck, was slated to be the starter in 2017-18. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

“I’m going to every ounce of effort I can on the ice to prove that I belong here and show them that last year was a fluke,” Hellebuyck said after signing the deal. “I know I have more to give and I’m going to do that this year and prove it. 

He did just that. After Mason struggled early β€” allowing 16 goals in his first three starts and losing his first fourβ€” Hellebuyck was given a chance to reclaim the crease. He did just that.

Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck
Hellebuyck was crucial to the Jets’ success in 2017-18. (Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports)

He never caved under the pressure of having no viable backup or under the pressure of playing in front of a d-corp that suffered injury after injury. He never showed signs of tiring in the season’s latter stages despite making 64 starts.

Hellebuyck was selected to his first all-star game as a result and was also nominated for the Vezina Trophy, an award he probably should have won over Pekka Rinne.

2017-18 Shutouts: 6

Dec. 3, 2017 versus Senators

Hellebuyck’s first shutout of the season didn’t come until his 22nd appearance, a Sunday-evening home tilt against the Senators.

Unlike his shutouts a season before, Hellebuyck was given plenty of goal support in this one β€” the Jets’ scary top six built up a 5-0 cushion in the first half of the game while the defence only allowed 21 shots against all night.

Dec. 17, 2017 versus Blues

Exactly two weeks later β€” once more, at home on a Sunday β€” Hellebuyck was perfect again. This time, he made 24 saves for his second career shutout against the Blues. It came just 24 hours after the Blues had blanked the Mason-backstopped Jets 2-0 in the first half of a home and home.

Dec. 31, 2017 at Oilers

Heading into a highly-hyped New Year’s Eve matchup against the Oilers in enemy territory, the Jets had won their first two coming out of the Christmas break after losing their last two before it. They extended that streak to three with a 5-0 beatdown of McDavid and company.

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl
The dynamic duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid fired a combined seven shots but couldn’t crack Hellebuyck. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Hellebuyck made 35 saves, including a nice sliding stop on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, to help the Jets reclaim the Central Division’s top spot.

Jan. 21, 2018 versus Canucks

Another Sunday at home, another shutout. This one came in a 1-0 victory against the Vancouver Canucks, where Hellebuyck turned aside 29 shots.

A great diving poke check on Markus Granlund was one of the most exciting moments of the game, which pushed the Jets to first place in the Central.

“It was a team shutout tonight,” Hellebuyck said after the game. “The guys played really good in front of me, they kept things to the outside and made my game pretty easy.”

Feb. 3, 2018 versus Avalanche

Hellebuyck’s fifth home shutout of the season was a 25-save performance against the Avalanche. Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic, and Nikolaj Ehlers provided the goals.

The victory gave the Jets points in seven straight games. Hellebuyck, like in his post-game interview after the Canucks’ game, was modest, saying: “The team is playing really well in front of me. They’re bringing it every night and you can tell. Guys are getting a little banged up, that means they’re blocking shots and doing the right things. My hat is off to my teammates.”

Bryan Little Patrik Laine Dustin Byfuglien Nikolaj Ehlers Jets
Hellebuyck credited his hard-working teammates for his fifth shutout of the season. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Feb. 23, 2018 at Blues

Hellebuyck’s sixth and final shutout of 2017-18 was his second of the season against the Blues and only one to come away from Bell MTS Place, where the Jets went an eye-popping 32-7-2.

Related: Jets Enjoying Home-Cooking This Season

The Jets built a comfortable early lead as Nic Petan, Blake Wheeler, and Kyle Connor all scored in the first. Patrik Laine added a goal in the second to make the lead 4-0, which would be the final. Hellebuyck stopped 34, including 15 in the third period.

2018-19: Hellebuyck Regresses Again

Hellebuyck parlayed his 2017-18 success into a massive six-year, $37-million contract. Then THW contributor Rob Mahon called it “another potential steal for the Jets.”

Related: Jets Strike Gold With Hellebuyck Contract

Unfortunately, Hellebuyck regressed greatly from his earlier form in 2018-19. Perhaps the huge cheque in his back pocket and the lack of a need to prove himself allowed complacency to creep into his game.

His rebound control, positioning, and poise weren’t nearly as good and the numbers laid his struggles bare: his 34-23-3 record, to go along with a 2.90 GAA and .913 SV%, had plenty of fans and pundits wondering if he was a one-hit wonder.

Phillip Danault, Connor Hellebuyck
This was a more common sight in 2018-19 than the season prior: Hellebuyck getting scored on. He allowed four or more goals in 18 different games. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

While he still had some good stretches, it was an overall disappointing campaign: heady new backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit was an exceedingly pleasant surprise and often looked more like Hellebuyck β€” big, boring, and economical in his movements β€” than Hellebuyck did.

Related: Jets Report Cards 2018-19: Connor Hellebuyck

Hellebuyck did capture a major milestone, though, recording his 100th-career win on New year’s Eve against the Edmonton Oilers.

2018-19 shutouts: 2

March 20, 2019 at Ducks

Hellebuyck was close to having no shutouts in 2018-19 β€” it took him until his 55th appearance and late March to do.

It came in Anaheim at the Honda Centre against the Ducks, a team he’s loved to face: after the 29 save performance, his record rose to 5-0-1 against the California club. The win pushed the Jets’ record to 44-25-4 and boosted their Central Division lead to three points (a lead they did not hold onto. More on that below.)

“It’s a monkey off my back,” Hellebuyck said simply regarding his first regular-season shutout in 13 months.

March 23, 2019 versus Predators

Three days later, the Jets played one of the most exciting games of their history. Bell MTS Place was electric as the home side clobbered the rival Predators 5-0 thanks to a Kyle Connor hat trick.

The game clinched the Jets a playoff berth and the decibel levels in the downtown barn exceeded 110 at times as chants of β€œfirst in Central” rained down. It seemed the Winnipeg Whiteout was ready to return with a vengeance and the team would make another deep playoff run.

Related: Jets Top Five Games of 2019

Of course, that didn’t happen. After that game, the Jets completely fell apart and could best be described as lackadaisical, lethargic, and lifeless down the stretch. The dressing room became divided and they failed to capture the Division crown despite controlling their own fate in that regard. They ultimately bowed out of the playoffs a month earlier than the season before, in six games to the eventual Cup-winning Blues.

2019-20: Hellebuyck Returns to a Much-Needed Finer Form

This season, Hellebuyck’s been the Jets’ undoubted MVP and has rebounded nicely from his disappointing 2018-19. He has stolen a number of games already, holding an inconsistent team that entered the season with plenty of questions on the back end and has taken blow after blow to their blue line in the playoff picture through mid-January.

Winnipeg Jets Connor Hellebuyck
Great goaltending from Hellebuyck this season is one of the only reasons the Jets are in the playoff hunt. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

He has nabbed the second all-star selection of his career; he’ll backstop the Central Division team later this month in St. Louis. He might just get his second Vezina nomination, too.

2019-20 Shutouts: 4 (So Far)

Oct. 20, 2019 versus Oilers

Who would have thought that Hellebuyck and the Jets, with their patchwork back-end, would shutout McDavid, Draisaitl, and the high-Octane Oilers?

That’s exactly what happened on Oct. 20, though, as Hellebuyck stopped 28 in regulation and overtime in a gritty, workmanlike effort. Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine both scored in the shootout to give Paul Maurice got his 700th-career win.

Nov. 29, 2019 at Ducks

The Jets really hit their stride after a wildly inconsistent October and captured a franchise-high 10 November wins.

Related: Top 5 Moments from Jets’ Record-Setting November

The 10th was this victory against the Ducks in Anaheim. Like he’s done many times before, Hellebuyck gave the Ducks fits as he made 24 saves, two nights removed from making a 32 in a 5-1 win against the San Jose Sharks.

Dec. 21, 2019 at Wild

Hellebuyck’s shutout was not the main storyline of this Central Division clash at Xcel Energy Center, but he probably didn’t mind.

In the 6-0 statement victory, arguably the Jets’ most exciting game of this season so far, Blake Wheeler tied and broke Ilya Kovalchuk’s record by recording his 615th and 616th points with the Thrashers/Jets franchise. Jansen Harkins also made his NHL debut and recorded his first point on a third-period assist.

Winnipeg Jets Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler became the Jets/Thrashers all-time leader in points in the game, rightfully overshadowing Hellebuyck’s 31 saves. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Jan. 14, 2020 at Canucks

Hellebuyck’s latest and record-breaking shutout was one of his most important: as mentioned off the top, he made 41 saves in a 4-0 victory that snapped a six-game home losing streak (and also took a shot at an empty net that was blocked at the blue line.) Sure, he perhaps got a little bit lucky as the Canucks clanked a couple of posts, but they all count.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Hellebuyck post-game. “That’s definitely a milestone. I hope I get that puck.”

“He made some fantastic saves,” Maurice said. “Then a big chunk of excellent technical work in terms of being in the right spot, working hard to be in the right spots. Then making some of them look far easier than they were. I don’t feel he was lucky. He was just outstanding.”

Jets Will Rely on Hellebuyck More Than Ever Down the Stretch

The trend is clear: when the Jets get above-average goaltending this seasonβ€” which they have most of the time β€” they have a good chance of winning. When they don’t, they don’t.

After going through a December slump, Hellebuyck is back on track and performing well again; he is near the top of the league at stopping high danger chances and gives the team a quality start more often than not.

As goes Hellebuyck, so do the Jets. Maurice has even admitted they’re no “analytics darlings” this season.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
If the Jets want to make the playoffs this season, they’ll need Connor Hellebuyck to bring his A game. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

That’ll hopefully change in the near future, as the Jets’ many compelling defensive prospects β€” Declan Chisholm, Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Giovanni Vallati, and potentially Leon Gawanke and Logan Stanley β€” become NHLers.

Related: Winnipeg Jets: 5 Reasons to Be Thankful in 2019-20

One thing that won’t change in the near future is that Hellebuyck is the team’s number-one netminder who will have plenty of chances to set more records in the years ahead.