Ondrej Pavelec has the green light to get back in net for the Winnipeg Jets, which means a demotion for rookie workhorse Connor Hellebuyck.
Head coach Paul Maurice announced after Friday’s practice that Pavelec was coming off the injured-reserve list and Hellebuyck, who has played the bulk of Winnipeg’s games since Pavelec went down, was being reassigned to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.
Pavelec, who missed 33 games with a knee injury, will play during the first two or three games of Winnipeg’s coming four-game road trip, Maurice said, but he wouldn’t designate his starter for Saturday’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers.
Pavelec injured his knee Nov. 21 during a collision with Arizona forward Shane Doan in a 3-2 home win over the Coyotes. He said he felt great and is ready to end his long absence.
“It was a lot of work, for sure. I never went through that kind of injury before,” said Pavelec, who is 5-6-1 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
There was talk the 28-year-old might be sent down for some conditioning games with the Moose, but the veteran didn’t think that was necessary.
“You want to face the best players in the NHL,” he said. “You want to be on the ice with them.”
Maurice said they’ve been pushing Pavelec lately and practice drills have been tailored to challenge him.
“There gets to be a point that you’re just doing the same things over and over again and he can only be so ready,” Maurice said.
Hellebuyck put up good numbers in Pavelec’s absence, but Winnipeg’s other young goalie, Michael Hutchinson, would have had to clear waivers to be assigned to the Moose. That made Hellebuyck was the natural choice to make room for Pavelec.
“In some ways we survived with some great goaltending early on by Michael and then Connor, for sure,” Maurice said. “But it’s good to get a veteran guy back and an excitement in the room.”
Maurice said Hellebuyck was joining the Moose for the “near term” and would be used as that club’s No. 1 netminder with Eric Comrie.
He added the rookie was leaving the Jets on a high note. In 26 games, Hellebuyck had a 13-11-1 record with a 2.34 GAA and .918 save percentage.
“Really, really impressed with what he was able to do,” Maurice said.
The Jets are coming off a 6-2 loss to Boston on Thursday and their playoff hopes have been dwindling. They have 51 points (24-27-3) and face an last-place Edmonton team (22-29-5) that’s only two points behind them in the Western Conference.
Winnipeg is 4-6 in its past 10 games, but has gone 4-0-1 in its last five away from home.
Late last season, Pavelec got hot and helped carry the Jets into the playoffs with a 9-2-1 run in his final 12 starts, including three straight shutouts.
Winger Drew Stafford was looking forward to having Pavelec back in net.
“It’s a big boost for us,” Stafford said. “When he went down, he was playing real well.”
Whether it’s Pavelec or Hutchinson against the Oilers, they’ll take on a team that dropped Toronto 5-2 Thursday. Jordan Eberle notched his first career hat rack and rookie phenom Connor McDavid had a pair of goals and three assists.
“Talk about the complete package,” Maurice said when asked about McDavid. “He’s got that blinding speed with those hands.
“He could play for zero, not get paid, not get a dime for salary, if he just got paid on the number of reruns on the highlights of his he’d make a whole lot more money.”Report Typo/Error