Jets Weekly: Heinola, Connor & Hellebuyck’s Vezina Case

Welcome to the fifth installment of “Jets Weekly.” This author will cover the past week in Winnipeg Jets news every Saturday during the regular season and break down storylines involving the Jets organization.

The Winnipeg Jets haven’t lost in regulation since Oct. 22, and it seems as though they’re improving with every game. They are fresh off of a 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in which their special teams played a big factor. Rick Bowness has also returned from his battle against COVID-19 and has his team playing at a high level (from “Jets tie best start to a season with shutout win over Blackhawks”, Winnipeg Sun, 11/5/22).

With a record of 7-3-1, the Jets currently sit second in the Central Division behind the Dallas Stars. They will finish up their three-game home stand on Tuesday, Nov. 8 against those same Stars in a battle of two division rivals off to a good start. Along with the success on the ice, it was a week full of storylines throughout the organization.

Heinola is Reportedly Growing Frustrated in the AHL

Jacob Stoller of The Hockey News reported earlier in the week that “Ville Heinola is reportedly growing frustrated with his lack of opportunities on the Winnipeg Jets roster, according to his agent” (from “Ville Heinola Deserves a longer look in the NHL: Agent”, The Hockey News, 11/3/22).

Related: Jets Sending Ville Heinola to the AHL is a Mistake

After trading for Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt two offseasons ago, the Jets have built a logjam on defence which has resulted in only one spot available for prospects to play. Jonathan Kovacevic was placed on waivers and claimed by the Montreal Canadiens as a result of this, and now one of the Jets’ top defence prospects is voicing his frustration.

Ville Heinola Manitoba Moose
Ville Heinola, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Heinola has four assists in eight games for the Manitoba Moose and has looked comfortable quarterbacking the power play. What is next for the former first-round pick? Being traded is a real possibility, but the Jets should look to use the young defender while he is still on his entry-level contract (ELC).

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Either the Jets make a move to create space on their blue line, or Heinola’s frustration grows to the point of a trade request. Regardless of how it ends, they are in danger of yet another first-round pick failing to pan out at the NHL level.

Kyle Connor Finally Breaks His Goalless Drought

Up until his game-winning overtime goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, Nov. 3, Kyle Connor had only scored one goal in the new season. That came on an empty net in the home opener, and Connor has struggled to put pucks in the back of the net ever since.

According to Natural Stat Trick, he has generated 5.79 expected goals this season and has only scored two. He is generating chances at the same high rate as last season but hasn’t been able to fill the net quite yet. He currently sits at seven points in 11 games, despite the goal-scoring woes.

With Nikolaj Ehlers still on injured reserve, Connor’s scoring woes have been that much more apparent. He will need to start leading the charge while Ehlers battles his way back from a lower-body injury.

Is Connor having two goals in 11 games a concern? Due to the chances he’s generating, this is likely just a dry spell for the 47-goal scorer from a season ago. Soon enough, he will revert to the high-flying winger that we have seen year after year, and the Jets will be much better off because of it.

Connor Hellebuyck is Firmly in the Vezina-Trophy Race

Connor Hellebuyck is providing elite-level goaltending yet again. Right now, he’s playing at a level we haven’t seen since his Vezina Trophy-winning season in 2019-20. He holds a record of 6-2-1 and has already recorded two shutouts early in the 2022-23 season.

MoneyPuck has him sitting second in the NHL in goals saved above expected, with 10.5 GSAx so far this year. For context, Hellebuyck finished with 16.7 GSAx all of last season. Now, this number can go down, but it seems as though the 28-year-old goaltender is headed for another dynamic season. His best performance came in an overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 30, when he stopped 46/48 shots on net, but got beat with a highlight-reel goal by Jack Eichel in overtime.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hellebuyck’s .936 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average would both be career-highs for the netminder, and he told reporters after his 30-save shutout that this is “the best he’s felt” and that he’s “getting better every year.” If the Jets can get the best version of Hellebuyck in 2022-23, who knows how high the ceiling is for this team.

The Jets only have one game between now and the beginning of a two-game road trip, on Nov. 12 and 13. This will give them time to get some much-needed practice time, something they have lacked so far this season. All eyes will be on the top-two teams in the Central on Tuesday, Nov. 8 as the Jets and Stars battle for the second time this season.

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