The Winnipeg Jets activated goalie Ondrej Pavelec off injured reserve Friday and sent goalie Connor Hellebuyck to Manitoba of the American Hockey League.
Pavelec hasn't played since Nov. 21, when he left a game against the Arizona Coyotes because of a knee sprain. He is 5-6-1 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in 15 games this season.
"He's skated on our off days, got pushed really, really hard, kind of past that point," coach Paul Maurice told the Jets website. "For a guy who's played enough games, got enough experience, he can kind of tell when he's ready and got through enough of the battle drills and the cross crease and at the end of the day he's just got to get into a net. He feels good, his legs are strong, his stamina is good, so he's just got to play."
Pavelec had 22 wins and established NHL career bests with a 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage in 50 games last season as the Jets made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated from Atlanta.
"You've seen around the League what can happen to teams when their No. 1 [goalies] go down for an extended period of time," Maurice said. "We were fortunate because in some ways we survived it with some great goaltending early on by Michael [Hutchinson] and then Connor. But it's good to get a veteran guy back and an excitement in the room."
Hellebuyck, a rookie, stepped in to become the No. 1 goaltender in Pavelec's absence and went 13-11-1 with a 2.34 GAA and .918 save percentage. However he was 4-7-1 in his past 13 games. Maurice said the purpose in sending the 22-year-old back to the AHL was to get him regular work.
"Really, really impressed with what he was able to do," Maurice said. "You go back to the start of the year to where he is right now and where we see his future; he's done a great job. There's some growth there, for sure, and we think he'll make that leap and he's going to be able to get stronger and do all the things and really become a goaltender that will compete in the future to be our No. 1 guy, and I won't put a limit on when that is. He's not that far off."
Maurice said Pavelec and Hutchinson will get starts during the Jets' four-game road trip, which starts Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers (10 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports).