When Shane Doan collided with Ondrej Pavelec in the second period during the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 win, the whole arena held their breath. Even though Pavelec toughed out the rest of the period, Micheal Hutchinson lead the Jets out to start the third period, and Pavelec was seen leaving the arena in crutches. This injury could provide an opportunity for phenom goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to grab the reigns of the Jets much talked about goaltending position.
Head coach Paul Maurice announced on Monday that Pavelec is out until at least January. In the mean time, the crease has been handed over to Hutchinson, who is scheduled to start tonight’s game versus the Colorado Avalanche. The injury has forced the Jets organization to shuffle goaltenders around, calling up Hellebuyck to the Jets, with Jussi Olkinuora coming to the Moose from the Tulsa Oilers.
The 22 year old Hellebuyck has had a meteoric rise since his draft year, including standout numbers last year in the AHL. He performed well with a 0.921 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average, on a very mediocre St. John’s Icecaps team. While his performance in the AHL had Jets fans pumped up, he rose to league wide fame with his performance at the 2014 World Hockey Championship, Racking up an impressive 7-1 record, and a 0.948 save percentage. He played a key role in the Bronze medal game, shutting out Pavelec’s skilled Czech team. This performance has lead to speculation Hellebuyck could start for the “Under 23” team at the World Cup of hockey next September.
Pavelec’s injury could be a blessing in disguise, as after the hot start, both Pavelec and Hutchinson have cooled off, ranking only 43rd and 30th respectively in save percentage league wide. The biggest question facing the Jets heading into the 2015/2016 season was goaltending, and right now, there are more questions than answers.
Breaking into the lineup
Maurice has said he wants to see Hellebuyck in the crease this season, and it looks like he will get his wish. With four games in the upcoming week, including tonight’s contest with Colorado, and a Friday and Saturday back to back, Hellebuyck will get his chance to see the crease.
Even if Hellebuyck gets off to a hot start, Jets fans should just stay cautiously optimistic. In the past few seasons, young goaltenders have flew out of the blocks, only to regress after more video on their tendencies is available to the league. Still, Hellebuyck has stood out at every level he has competed at so far in his career, and the Jets expect that to continue to the highest professional level.
This week could turn out to be the turning point for the entire franchise in Winnipeg. The Jets have always been an okay team held back by below average goaltending. Now their ace prospect will get a chance to show management what he can do at this level. Jets fans wait with baited breath if Hellebuyck can convert his potential to a long career, and will get a glimpse of the future this week.
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