Hellebuyck WPG trophy tracker Vezina

To mark the halfway point of the 2023-24 regular season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series. Today, we look at the race for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the goalie voted to be the best in the League by NHL general managers.

Connor Hellebuyck has thrived in past seasons while being one of the busiest goalies in the NHL.

He's seeing fewer pucks this season, but his play remains at a stellar level, which is one of the big reasons the Winnipeg Jets (29-10-4) lead the NHL with a .721 points percentage.

"Connor has proven he's one of the best in the world in years past and he continues to do it again," Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty said on the "Winnipeg Jets: Ground Control" podcast. "We've cut down on our scoring chances from the past years but he's still one of the leaders in the League in goals saved above expected. He's still up there even though we've cut down on the majority of our scoring chances. He's still making the big saves when we need them."

Hellebuyck has played well enough to be considered the favorite at midseason to win the Vezina Trophy, according to a panel of 15 NHL.com writers. He received 69 points in the poll, including 11 first-place votes. Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks was second with 53 points (one first-place vote), followed by Cam Talbot of the Los Angeles Kings (42 points, three first-place votes).

Hellebuyck is 22-7-3 in 32 games. His 2.19 goals-against average and .925 save percentage each rank in the top three in the NHL (minimum 15 games), and he's allowed two goals or fewer in 19 of his past 20 games.

"We know what we're going to get from Connor every night," Jets coach Rick Bowness said. "He's so good. He's an elite goaltender, without a doubt."

Hellebuyck has ranked in the top three in shots faced each of the previous six seasons, including four straight (2018-22) where he faced the most. This season he's fifth (933) and on pace for 1,778, the fewest he'd see in an 82-game season since 2016-17 (1,572).

CBJ@WPG: Hellebuyck, Jets blank Blue Jackets, 5-0

However, he's still faced 256 high-danger shots, fifth-most in the League, with an .844 save percentage that's seventh, according to NHL EDGE stats.

"Nothing really rattles him," Jets associate coach Scott Arniel said on the "NHL @TheRink" podcast. "Whether he happens to give up a bad goal or something happens, it doesn't matter. He just turns the page and moves on to the next one."

Flaherty, the Jets' goaltending coach since 2011-12, said there are several reasons the 30-year-old has developed into one of the elite goalies in the NHL. That includes winning the Vezina in 2019-20 and being a finalist two other times (2017-18, 2022-23).

"His awareness of what's going on around him, his tracking of players without the puck, his awareness of knowing ... sometimes he knows before the player with the puck knows what he's going to do with it," Flaherty said. "His depth management is outstanding. I've heard the term big and boring but to me that's the way you want your goaltenders to be. You want them to make it look easy. If my goalie is out there making 10-bell saves, five or six a night, that shows that he's probably out of position more than not. I'd like him to be in position, taking that puck right in the logo."

There's also Hellebuyck's durability. He's played 32 of the Jets' first 43 games, putting him on pace for 61, which would be the fifth straight full season of at least 60. His 395 games played since the start of the 2017-18 season, which includes two seasons shortened because of COVID-19 issues, lead NHL goalies. His 221 wins during that span are second to Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning (234).

"He's shown that he can play night after night and that's what you want in a goaltender," Flaherty said. "Not only a guy that can play, but a guy that wants to play and you've got to rein him back once in a while."

Arniel, in his second season with the Jets, has been around several good goalies during his coaching career, including six seasons watching Henrik Lundqvist as an assistant with the New York Rangers (2013-18) and two seasons with Braden Holtby as an assistant for the Washington Capitals (2018-20).

Hellebuyck fits in their category.

"We had 'Hank' there in New York when we had a couple runs there, especially the first two years," Arniel said. "I saw some great goaltending then. And certainly, this guy has been fantastic as well."

Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Connor Hellebuyck, Jets, 69 points (11 first-place votes); Thatcher Demko, Canucks, 53 (1 first-place vote); Cam Talbot, Kings, 42 (3 first-place votes); Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers, 25; Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins, 12; Connor Ingram, Arizona Coyotes, 7; Adin Hill, Vegas Golden Knights, 3; Joey Daccord, Seattle Kraken, 3; Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators, 3; Igor Shesterkin, Rangers, 2; Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders, 2: Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers, 1; Jonathan Quick, Rangers, 1; Linus Ullmark, Bruins, 1; Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars, 1

NHL.com staff writer Derek Van Diest contributed to this report