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