It’s the final week of the season for the Winnipeg Jets, after being eliminated from playoff contention on Thursday night. With games still on the schedule, is it evaluation time for some of the Jets’ young prospects?
As is customary in the NHL with teams playing meaningless games late in the season, some of their touted prospects make their NHL debut, playing their clubs’ final game or two of the year. Playoff-bound or not, this has happened to every team I have followed for as long as I can remember. The Jets hold one of the most well-stocked prospect pools league-wide, and for many fans, myself included, we simply can’t wait for these ‘young guns’ to dress in Polar Blue each night.
Those days might be seasons away for some players, but there is no reason why they can’t get their feet wet in the final week of the 2013-14 seaosn. With all the injuries the Jets have suffered lately, it is certainly a good opportunity for the farm-hands to get their shot at a big-league game.
Out of each prospect, there isn’t one many want to see more than Michael Hutchinson. Hutchinson has been biding his time with the Jets since being recalled on March 15th when starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec went down with injury. After Pavelec’s return, it seemed that Hutchinson would be sent back down to the AHL, but an untimely injury to the other Jets’ goaltender, Al Montoya, has the 24-year old with the club entering the final week of the season.
Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice has said that he “has an interest” in seeing Hutchinson play, and that time will come on Monday night, when he makes his first career NHL start against the Minnesota Wild. Hutchinson started the year as the 5th goaltender on the Jets’ depth chart, and wasn’t even expected to play with the St. John’s Ice Caps of the AHL, and the start on Monday has made his fantastic story come full circle.
There is a downside to the youth movement in Winnipeg; The IceCaps are still very active in the AHL standings, and could move several spots up or down depending on the outcome of their final 6 games. The Jets play their final game on Friday, April 11th, giving those prospects with two-way contracts an opportunity to return to Newfoundland and play in the last three/four games, depending on the travel schedule (The IceCaps play at home on the 12th).
With a match-up looming on Thursday against the Boston Bruins, who have clinched the Eastern Conference title, it may seem that the Jets are throwing their prospects to the wolves. However, this precious evaluation time is scarce in a player’s development, and could be the difference between a player getting the call to Winnipeg next year.