The Winnipeg Jets' No. 1 goaltending job is available for Connor Hellebuyck. All he has to do is seize it.
Injuries are inevitable in sports.
Sometimes they can cost a hotshot newcomer a rookie-of-the-year award. For example, Connor McDavid last season. Promising careers have been ruined as up-and-coming youngsters never get untracked due to repeated setbacks. See Beau Bennett.
In another scenario, many a sidelined veteran has been replaced – sometimes permanently – by a more-talented, less-pricy prospect.
Connor Hellebuyck is getting a second chance this season to prove to the Jets that he can solidify Winnipeg’s blueline and backstop the squad’s talented young lineup into the playoffs.
Handed the No. 1 job earlier this season over mediocre former starter Ondrej Pavelec, who was demoted to the AHL, the lanky 23-year-old Hellebuyck failed to deliver.
After Hellebuyck delivered a so-so 16-13-1 record with equally iffy peripherals, Pavelec was summoned from the Manitoba Moose and started eight of nine times before suffering a lower-body injury (LBI).
Hellebuyck, who lost 5-2 Friday to the visiting Blackhawks (although Chicago scored twice after the Jets pulled their netminder), gets another chance today against the visiting Lightning.
Pavelec, 29, has exhausted the Jets’ patience with yet another string of frustrating performances. Michael Hutchinson, 26, appears to be a backup at best.
Barring a trade, that leaves Hellebuyck as Winnipeg’s default No. 1. Admittedly, he could have put up better numbers this season and the Jets’ future is still much brighter than their present.
If Hellebuyck is available, though, you could take worse gambles than claiming him now to see if he might be a steal for the rest of the season. He’s still a good bet in a keeper league as the team’s exciting young talent jells under Paul Maurice.
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Some of the speedy, skilled forwards in the Penguins’ organization are up with Pittsburgh in the absence of LW Conor Sheary, out until early or mid-March with an upper-body injury (UBI); LW Carl Hagelin (concussion); RW Bryan Rust (UBI); and the oft-hurt Evgeni Malkin, who was expected to return to the lineup today in Arizona after sitting out six games with an LBI.
Malkin didn’t find his way back into the lineup, meaning LW/C Jake Guentzel, winger Tom Kühnhackl and RW/C Carter Rowney are playing against the Coyotes.
Of those three, Guentzel has the highest upside by far. It’s almost certainly too late to claim him in your keeper league but you should monitor him closely to see if he sticks with the NHL club when Malkin return and Hagelin return, especially since he could fill the scoring role temporarily vacated by Sheary. After rolling up 21 goals and as many assists in 33 AHL games earlier this season, the sniping speedster has nine points in 16 games with Pittsburgh. He could have a big second half if the Penguins keep him up and give him meaningful minutes.
Kühnhackl is a valuable fourth-liner who can contribute timely offense as well as physicality, while the late-blooming Rowney will have a hard time carving out quality minutes with Pittsburgh.
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Although Josh Gorges makes a welcome return to Buffalo’s blueline after missing a dozen games with an abdomen injury, Cody Franson remains out for two or three weeks with a foot problem and Zach Bogosian is still on IR with a rib issue.
That force-feeds meaningful playing time to 2012 second-rounder Jake McCabe. The 6-1, 209-pounder defense-first player is capable of producing modest offense although he’s not seeing any PP time.
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Young Matthew Benning is with Andrej Sekera today as the Oilers, coming off their bye week, are still hurting on the back end.
Darnell Nurse’s bad ankle has kept him out of action since early December, and promises to sideline him awhile longer. Kris Russell is out day to day with an undisclosed ailment and fellow veteran Andrew Ference is sidelined day to day by a hip injury.
Benning has been with the Oilers most of the season as a 22-year-old righthand shot with upper-end puck-distributing ability. Replacing Russell on Edmonton’s second pairing, he’s getting a big bump in meaningful minutes.
Jordan Oesterle, recalled from the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors, is with Brandon Davidson on the third pairing.
Judging from their draft positions – Griffin Reinhart (fourth overall) and Oesterle (undrafted) – Reinhart should be in the NHL instead. He has remained so disappointing that he was returned to Bakersfield. Reinhart, a hometown Edmontonian, has regressed from showoff during his time with the junior Oil Kings to show-me.
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Does Anaheim blueline prospect Brandon Montour have crazy puckhandling skills? You decide:
Anaheim’s glut of talented young defenders has become a blessing while Sami Vatanen (LBI, day to day), Clayton Stoner (abdomen surgery) and Simon Depres (concussion, indefinitely) are out of action.
Brandon Montour, a 2014 second-rounder, was recalled from the AHL’s San Diego Gulls and is with Cam Fowler on today’s top pairing against the Capitals. Although Montour, 22, has just a goal and an assist in eight NHL games this season, he’s got outstanding offensive talent and scored his first big-league goal a week ago.
After 57 points last season in 68 AHL games, he racked up 30 in 34 earlier this campaign. Montour will be a point-generating dynamo when he finally gets the quality icetime his talent deserves.
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The off-season acquisition of Dennis Seidenberg is picking up the slack for much of Travis Hamonic’s considerable playing time while the Islander blueliner is out week to week with an LBI.
Ryan Pulock and his boom-boom point shot would likely have received another audition, but he’s out with a broken foot. While he’s skating, he’s not close to returning, which means steady Adam Pelech is paired today with Thomas Hickey.
A big scorer in junior (54 points in 60 games in his final season), Pelech hasn’t shown that element as a pro and projects as a two-way defender with modest production. Still, he’s just 22, so check him out periodically to see if his offense is blooming late.
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Young prospects currently injured include LW William Carrier, whom Buffalo was forced to put on IR after he suffered a knee injury.
The Sabres were already without C Johan Larsson, who’s out for the season with elbow/wrist woes, and Carrier might have picked up some of his icetime. Although he has a mere six points in 35 NHL games, the Sabres have plans for him, and he needs to play to develop. Monitor him when he returns from IR, although he likely won’t start to register significant NHL points before next season.
The Flyers have placed versatile forward Travis Konecny on IR with a sprained ankle, derailing a promising rookie season. Not yet fully realizing his dynamic skill-set, the 2015 24th-overall pick posted 22 points in his first 51 NHL games.
He did that playing with Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier or Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, illustrating the Flyers’ intention to play him with talented linemates.
Not this season, but sometime soon, Konecny will be a star.
Jujhar Khaira scores his first NHL goal:
The Oilers have LW Jujhar Khaira on the IR with a wrist injury. Only the third player of Punjabi ancestry to play in the NHL (following Robin Bawa and Manny Malhotra), Edmonton’s 2012 63rd-overall pick projects as a physical, bottom-six grinder. He did, however, score his first NHL goal in January, a game-winner against the Coyotes. Khaira had 18 points earlier this season in 24 AHL games. He could develop into a really useful player in fantasy leagues that count PIMs and hits.
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Well that’s it for this week. Here’s hoping none of your fantasy players get hurt and instead benefit from injuries to players owned by your competitors. Not that we ever wish misfortune on others…