Connor Hellebuyck came to the Winnipeg Jets with a lot of hype based on how he had played in the NCAA and the AHL, but struggled in his first full season as a NHL goalie. While the argument could be made that his NCAA team was stronger than the Jets are relative to their respective leagues, it is fair to assume that this was not the case with the Manitoba Moose; so what happened to Hellebuyck during this NHL season?
There is the possibility that while fine at lower levels, the NHL is just too fast for Hellebuyck. There is also the possibility that he is being coached differently in the NHL than in the AHL and those differences are messing with his technique. Finally, Hellebuyck could not be as good as he was thought to be. The Jets should hope that there is a NHL average goalie inside of him though.
When Hellebuyck was thrust into the starters roll this season, he did not seem ready for the task, even if his performances in other leagues merited him a shot. More importantly even at his worst, he is better than Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec. The problem with the Jets is they seem to prefer to buttfumble through goalies brought up through the organization instead of bringing in an outside goalie to see how they do.
Maybe the most confusing part about Hellebuyck’s season was how quickly some fans and media turned on him. While Pavelec had way too many seasons to work through his flaws, Hellebuyck had to such luck. It is true that the Jets need better goaltending to win, but for that to only come to the forefront this season exposes a lack of critical thinking into how the Jets could struggle when their goalie rarely hits the NHL average save percentage for his season average.
Connor Hellebuyck was not good enough this year for the Jets to win. While he might improve, the Jets should be asking themselves what is so different between the NHL and the AHL that Hellebuyck would struggle this much. Furthermore, they need to have a concrete goalie plan in place for next year to make sure that Hellebuyck is not carrying the load once again. He is not ready for it and until he is there needs to be another goalie in place. While the Jets can be excused this year for giving Hellebuyck the reins, it is fair to wonder if they should have gotten a veteran player to at least split the games with him and mentor him. It is too late for that now, but hopefully Hellebuyck can be salvaged.