Ondrej Pavelec will head into this season as Winnipeg’s undisputed No. 1 netminder though, by his own admission, his play last year didn’t exactly lock him into the job.
“I wasn’t happy last year with the way I played,” Pavelec said, per the Winnipeg Sun. “It’s no secret.”
The knocks on Pavelec, 27, are well documented (see here and here and here for examples), but they didn’t dampen Winnipeg’s belief that he could be a bell-cow starter for this year and beyond. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff opted against using a compliance buyout on Pavelec’s five-year, $19.5 million deal — which runs through 2017 — and made no moves to try and bring in an established veteran to challenge for the No. 1 gig.
Instead, the Jets inked AHL farmhand Michael Hutchinson to a two-year extension, promoting him to backup (replacing Al Montoya, who signed in Florida). A former third-round pick by the Bruins, Hutchinson has fared well at the American League level but only has three games of NHL experience, suggesting he might be a ways away from actually challenging Pavelec for the starter’s role.
That jives with what Cheveldayoff first said in April and reaffirmed all summer long: Pavelec is Winnipeg’s guy.
With no real threat to his gig, the big question moving forward is if Pavelec can self-motivate. There were concerns about his conditioning last season — though to be fair, those concerns stretched throughout the club — and, in what can only be viewed as a positive for the Jets, the Czech netminder has arrived for camp in good shape (slimmer than usual, per various media eyeball tests, though Pavelec says he hasn’t officially weighed in yet.)
“You always can improve your fitness,” Pavelec said, per the Sun. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Now’s a little bit early to talk about it.
“We’ll see… I’m pretty sure it’s going to help me.”