Jets’ Hellebuyck Should Be Front-Runner for Vezina Trophy

The Winnipeg Jets find themselves atop the Central Division with an 18-7-1 record, which is also good for second-best in the entire Western Conference, behind only the Vegas Golden Knights. Rick Bowness’ coaching style is doing wonders for this group, as they are playing at a Stanley Cup-contender level.

It’s no secret that the Jets are a much-improved team in 2022-23, and Connor Hellebuyck has been a big reason for that. Last season he had a below-average season by his standards but still finished top eight in goals saved above expected, according to Money Puck’s tracking. Through 20 starts this season, the 28-year-old goaltender has returned to his “Vezinabuyck” form.

Hellebuyck is Enjoying Career-Highs in Every Major Goaltending Stat

Hellebuyck isn’t just having a good season, he’s having the best one of his career. He’s enjoying career highs in save percentage (SV%) with a .932, goals-against average (GAA) with a 2.24, and goals saved above expected with 15.9 GSAx. These elite numbers have granted Hellebuyck praises amongst national media, with him being routinely placed top three in almost all early Vezina Trophy rankings.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the past, Hellebuyck has had to bail the Jets out of games where they should not have won. But this season, it seems as though both the Jets and Hellebuyck are pulling their weight regularly which bodes well for future success.

With that being said, he has still had his fair share of impressive performances this year. His 40-save shutout against the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 29, and his 39-save performance against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 6 are prime examples of the level he is playing at right now. Another one of note was his 46-save display against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 30, a game in which the Jets lost 2-1 in overtime but would not have made it to the extra frame if not for Hellebuyck’s heroics.

Morrissey Leads Improved Defence Core In Front of Hellebuyck

Bowness’ new defensive system is working wonders on this Jets’ defence core, but nobody is reaping the benefits more than Josh Morrissey. The left-handed defender is the leading scorer on the Jets with five goals, 25 assists, and 30 points in his first 26 games.

Related: Jets Have Become Contenders In the Western Conference

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Brenden Dillon, Nate Schmidt, and Dylan Samberg are also playing at a higher level than they did last season, which bodes extremely well for Hellebuyck’s Vezina case and the future success of the organization. According to Natural Stat Trick, this group still has a ways to go defensively. They have them giving up 56.74 expected goals this season, which is below average across the NHL.

Still, these numbers are an improvement from last season, and a lighter workload for Hellebuyck is good news for both the present and future success of the franchise. Add up an improved defence core, improved defensive systems, and an elite goaltender playing at the top of his game, and what do you get? The Vezina Trophy frontrunner.

Ullmark & Sorokin Headline Biggest Competitors for Vezina Trophy

Hellebuyck is facing some stiff competition for the Vezina, but so far it’s a three-goalie race. Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins is up there as well, as he has the best goaltender record in the NHL at 15-1-0. He’s top five in GSAx with 11.8 and is the starting goaltender for the best team in the NHL. The former sixth-round pick has an unbelievable .939 SV%, to go along with a 1.82 GAA. The Bruins are also a top team in the league defensively, but those numbers are impressive enough to leapfrog Hellebuyck over the course of the season.

Linus Ullmark Boston Bruins
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders is one of the most talented goaltenders in the league, and he’s proving it this season. The 27-year-old has a record of 10-8-0, a .927 SV%, and a 2.33 GAA. He’s also third in the NHL with 14.4 GSAx, and has the Islanders in a playoff spot to start the season, which many people did not expect going into the 2022-23 season.

There are still a lot of games left to play, but both Hellebuyck and the Jets have gotten off to a picture-perfect start. If the former Vezina Trophy winner can keep up this remarkable pace, there’s no reason why he should not win it for a second time. Ullmark and Sorokin are certainly names to keep an eye on, but right now, Hellebuyck should be favoured as the best goaltender in the NHL.

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