Nearly from the moment the Jets returned to Winnipeg, the questions about whether Ondrej Pavelec was the goaltender of the future began. Now, three seasons later, it appears his time may be up.
It’s a tricky situation in Winnipeg, though. Finally it appears Winnipeg has a goaltender, Michael Hutchinson, who is ready to take the reins from Pavelec. Issue is, Pavelec really hasn’t played poorly enough to warrant losing his spot as the starter. So, over the course of the past six games, the two netminders have split time.
Pavelec dropped games to Detroit and St. Louis before adding a win against the Buffalo Sabres. Hutchinson won both of his first two outings against the Devils and Blue Jackets, but fell in overtime to the Boston Bruins on Friday. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time that Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice gives Hutchinson some consecutive starts to see what his young goaltender can do.
Hutchinson, as you may or may not know, starting making waves in Winnipeg late last season. The Jets were miles out of playoff contention when they gave the 24-year-old three starts against the Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins, and Calgary Flames. The result was five goals against and a .943 save percentage. Small sample size? Undoubtedly. Glimmer of hope? Almost certainly.
As Winnipeg entered 2014-15, it seemed a lock that Winnipeg would roll a 1A/1B tandem of Hutchinson and Pavelec. But on Oct. 5, four days before the season began, the Jets traded for veteran backup Peter Budaj. Murmurs began that Budaj may supplant Hutchinson, who didn’t have the most outstanding preseason, as the backup netminder. The next day that discussion promptly ended when Budaj was waived and sent to the American League’s St. John’s IceCaps.
Once the season began, it didn’t take long for Hutchinson to get his fist crack at starting duty, but he stumbled out of the gate. He would spend just over a period in the Winnipeg net, surrendering three goals on 13 shots to the Los Angeles Kings before being replaced by Pavelec. Hutchinson didn’t see another start for nearly two weeks. When he did get back in goal, it was a role reversal: this time it was he replacing Pavelec.
Since that night, a relief duty nine-shot, nine-save performance, Hutchinson hasn’t looked back. He’s faced 88 shots, stopped 83, posted one shutout, a goals against average of 1.16 and .943 SP. Not only that, he’s picked up at least a point in each outing. That includes his replacement duty against the Minnesota Wild in which Hutchinson was part of a Jets team that clawed its way back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period before falling in overtime.
But in goaltending it’s not about what you’ve done in the past, it’s about whether or not you can keep it up. For Hutchinson, it seems as though that consistency is coming around. The amount of games to draw from is still smaller than most goaltenders, but his play has been steady at every professional level he’s played. From the ECHL to the AHL and, now, in the NHL, Hutchinson has only shown that he’s prepared to take on whatever challenge he’s given.
That next challenge should a real, honest shot at the starting job for the Winnipeg Jets.