WINNIPEG – When he was first approached last year by the Winnipeg Jets organization, goaltending prospect Michael Hutchinson was a little doubtful about how their offer would advance his career.
“When they came to me off the start, I really didn’t feel like it was a good idea,” he said the morning after his NHL debut against the Minnesota Wild Monday night, when he allowed only one goal although it proved the winner in a 1-0 loss.
He had been drafted, developed and dropped by the Boston Bruins and getting buried deep the farm-club system of another team that already seemed to have enough goalies in the pipe didn’t seem like a great bet.
But he talked it over with his family and his agent and they finally came to the conclusion there might be opportunity to move up.
“I was fortunate. Looking back it was definitely the right decision.”
At 24, moving up has to be an issue for the six-foot-three native of Barrie, Ont., and the pieces have fallen into place since he was picked by the Jets.
He started the season with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL and compiled a record of 22-4-2.
Injuries gave him a chance to move up a step to the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, where he continued to impress with a record of 15-5-1, a 2.33 goals-against average, two shutouts and a .923 save percentage.
Then, thanks to an injury to starter Ondrej Pavelec, he got the call from the Jets to warm the bench for backup Al Montoya in net. When Montoya was injured, Hutchinson got the nod.
“I didn’t even think this would be possible. You start every single season I think, you always dream you’re going to get a chance play in the NHL, but when you start off in the East Coast League it doesn’t even seem realistic.”
He was called up by Boston as a backup to Tim Thomas but never got a chance to stand between the pipes.
“Last night was an amazing experience,” he said.
Now that he’s played his first game, he’d like his first win and he may get a shot, as the Jets are looking at using him again as they play their last couple of games.
Right now, they don’t have anything to lose. They’re out of the playoff picture for the seventh straight year when their years in Atlanta as the Thrashers are factored in.
He’s on a US$600,000 one-year deal and says he’s done all he can to show he’s worth keeping. He has been working to adjust his game, particularly how deep he plays.
“Especially playing in three leagues this year, you have to make little adjustments,” he said. “In the East Coast I was able to be a little more aggressive, I had to take a step back in the American League and (in the NHL), I think, take another little step back again.”
He has helped the IceCaps all-but clinch a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs and when the Jets call it quits after their last game Friday night in Calgary, Hutchinson’s season will most likely continue. They were a win away from locking down that playoff spot Tuesday night.
The IceCaps missed the playoffs last season after making it to the third round the year before, their first season after the Jets moved the franchise to Newfoundland.
Whether or not Hutchinson is part of the picture, it looks a lot like goaltending is an issue the Jets have to address in the off-season if they want to finally qualify for the post-season themselves next year, their fourth in their new home.
Pavelec, 26, is earning US$3.5 million this season and is under contract through 2016-17. His record over 57 games is 22-26-7 with a save percentage of .901 and goals-against average of 3.01.
Montoya, 29, a bargain at US$601,000, has played half as many games and sits at 13-8-3, .920 and 2.30.