Michael Hutchinson hasn’t exactly been a news-maker for the Winnipeg Jets since arriving on March 15th. No, the goaltender hasn’t put up any 35-save performances, shutouts, or even a win for that matter. Instead, he has played the job of back-up to Al Montoya, since starter Ondrej Pavelec suffered a lower-body injury over a week ago. However, strapping the pads on for practice and looking pretty during the game might be just enough to earn his first NHL start in the coming games.
With a loss to the Dallas Stars on Monday, and no help in the standings, the Jets are slowly slipping away from the playoff cut-line with only nine games to play this season. The Jets won’t be throwing in the towel just yet, but with their next four games on the road, things are looking bleak in Manitoba. Even though missing the playoffs stings, a silver lining appears in those fleeting regular-season games; the opportunity to bring up prospects for valuable playing time at the NHL level presents itself.
The Jets have a well-stocked prospect list, and Hutchinson is currently #1 in the goaltending category, after starting the season #5 on the Jets’ depth chart, where many didn’t expect him to even play for the teams’ AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Ice Caps. Since then, Hutchinson not only made the team, but posted a 15-5-1 record with a .923% save percentage and 2.33 GAA. He is currently ranked 7th among AHL goaltenders on the league website.
The Ice Caps have done well without him also, losing only one game in that time. They have won 13 of their last 14 games, and are a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, with a playoff spot nearly on lock-down.
If the Jets get mathematically eliminated in the coming days, it is more than likely that Hutchinson will stick around, and earn a start in one of the games before season’s end. It won’t be in the next three games, however; a tough test awaits in the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks, giving a rookie his first career start against any of those Western Conference superpowers would be equal to throwing Hutchinson to the wolves.
A start against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 5th, or Calgary Flames on April 10th would be a good possibility for the 24-year old. However, with Pavelec nearing full health, he could be back in St. John’s before that time comes.
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