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Hellebuyck, Hutchinson to lead Jets in goal

Ondrej Pavelec placed on waivers for purpose of re-assignment

by Ryan Dittrick @ryandittrick / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - The future is now when it comes to the Winnipeg Jets goaltending situation.

The club re-assigned eight players to the Manitoba Moose Monday, including longtime starter Ondrej Pavelec, who will have to clear waivers before being sent down.

As a result, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson are the two taking over in goal this season.

"(We have) two good young goalies here that have both had blocks of time where they've looked like they've had the ability to become No. 1 guys, and they needed that opportunity to show it," Head Coach Paul Maurice said.

"They'll get that here with the two of them."

If Pavelec clears and is then on the Moose roster, most of his $3.9M cap hit will remain on the books in this, the final year of a five-year deal signed back in the summer of 2012.

"It's part of the business. This time of year is never easy," captain Blake Wheeler said. "There are a lot of guys that went down that had strong camps and made a real strong case to make the team. … It's a tough day. I've been through a lot with Pavo. Hopefully he gets an opportunity and makes the most of it. We're definitely going to miss having him around in the locker room.

"Hat's off to Bucky and Hutchy for having strong camps."

Video: PRACTICE | Blake Wheeler

After years of development, it was time for them to be given the reins.

Pavelec, 29, has been with the organization longer than anyone else on the roster. Drafted with the 41st pick in 2005, he has appeared in 371 career games over nine seasons with the Jets and Atlanta Thrashers, posting a 148-154-47 record, along with a .907 save percentage and a 2.85 goals-against average.

Pavelec's best year came in the 2014-15 campaign when he compiled career highs in both save percentage (.920) and goals-against average (2.28) to help lead the Jets to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Kladno, Czech Republic native last played in the American Hockey League during the 2008-09 season with the Chicago Wolves.

"He handled it like a pro," Maurice said of his "very short, but very professional" meeting with the veteran. "It's difficult, even when you know that it might be possible, because (players) do form bonds in the room and they have friendships and closeness that they've developed. It's difficult."

From this point forward, Hellebuyck and Hutchinson will be the Jets' new No. 1 goaltenders.

Yes, plural. Maurice will be counting on both to perform and grab the No. 1 job at different times throughout the first half when the Jets play the majority of their games away from MTS Centre.  

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

Asked whether or not it was important to name one guy and have him run with it, Maurice joked: "Whoever's in the net will be our No. 1 goalie on any given night - and I really feel that way."

The Jets play four of their first five games at home, but then play 10 of 16 on the road in the month of November, including three sets of back-to-backs in U.S. cities - all in a compressed, 30-day span.

"When you look at our schedule to the 12th and 13th of December, which is our first set of back-to-back days at home that we have from the 21st and the 22nd of October, we're going to need both goalies, and it may look an awful lot like a rotation, even though I've never said we'd go into a rotation. Both are playing. They both have to be given the opportunity to grab it. They're both going to grab it at different times, and they're both going to lose it at different times, too, and that's where the growth comes.

"They have to fight for it and perform under that pressure."

Hutchinson appeared in three preseason games, posting a team-leading 2-1 record, along with a .918 save percentage and a 2.68 goals-against average.

Video: PRACTICE | Michael Hutchinson

"I'm excited and happy that I'm going to be sticking around," he said. "It's one of those things that I didn't really think too much about during camp. It was out of my control and I just tried to focus on my game. I felt I had a good camp.

"You feel for (Pavelec). We're close friends and it's always tough when it happens, so I'll definitely check in and see how he's doing."

Hellebuyck had a .900 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in two exhibition contests. Hellebuyck, who is entering his first full season in the NHL, had the best numbers of any Jets goalie last year, winning 13 of 24 decisions, and recording a .918 save percentage and 2.34 GAA.

"This is what I've worked for my entire life, but I'm not satisfied yet," he said. "I want to win a Stanley Cup and I want to prove that not only do I belong here, but the team here is good enough to do it."

Today the Jets also re-assigned Andrew Copp, Marko Dano, Chase De Leo, Anthony Peluso, Nic Petan, Julian Melchiori and Brian Strait.

Peluso, Melchiori and Strait will also have to clear waivers.

- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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