Blake Wheeler on Jets’ net issues: ‘We need better goaltending’

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck gives up a goal to the Arizona Coyotes. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

After allowing the fourth-most goals of any NHL club last season, there’s no denying Winnipeg Jets starter Connor Hellebuyck left more to be desired in 2016-17.

Through 56 appearances, the 23-year-old posted a save percentage of .907 while winning just 46 per cent of his tilts. Backup Michael Hutchinson didn’t fare much better, registering nine wins and a save percentage of .903 in 28 games.

Count Jets captain Blake Wheeler among those calling for an improvement in net, one that should hopefully stem from the club signing veteran Steve Mason to take over the starting role.

“We need better goaltending,” Wheeler told The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin. “It’s a tough business, and being a goalie is tough. By no means is this closing the door on anyone, but I think having competition back there is really important.

“Because if you keep putting somebody back into the net, and they’re 24 years old and maybe they’re not quite ready for it, it can be damaging to them a little bit.”

While Mason’s decade of NHL experience means he’ll likely slot in as the No.1 option, the move doesn’t signal the Jets writing off Hellebuyck just yet.

“Seeing someone go in there who has worked for it, who’s had success doing it, can really only help them,” Wheeler said of the impact Mason’s presence may have on the team’s younger netminders. “Having competition back there, having that hunger to get back into the net, that’s a huge thing for any team.”

Despite their lacklustre goaltending, the 2016-17 season undoubtedly served as a key step forward for the Jets, due in no small part to the arrival of Patrik Laine and his dominant sniping.

The young Finn amassed 36 goals and 64 points in his rookie campaign, while fellow young stars Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers posted career-best marks of 82 and 64 points, respectively.

Wheeler did his part as well, finishing second in team scoring with 74 points to his name. But the Plymouth, Minn., native knows Winnipeg’s offensive progress isn’t enough to help them claw their way back into the playoffs.

“There are 31 [NHL] starting goalie jobs in the entire world, so there’s an incredible amount of competition,” Wheeler told Larkin. “It’s a thankless job a lot of times.

“But for us to get where we need to go, we need to have that position solidified.”

Mason checks into the Jets’ net after concluding a five-year stint in Philadelphia, wherein he posted a .918 save percentage alongside 14 total shutouts.


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