HELLEBUYCK TAKEN IN 5TH ROUND OF 2012 NHL DRAFT
PITTSBURGH, PA – After just one season as a member of the North American Hockey League, the Odessa Jackalopes have already produced an NHL Draft pick as 2011-12 Jackalopes MVP and reigning NAHL Goaltender and Rookie of the Year, Connor Hellebuyck was selected Saturday in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, 130th overall, by the Winnipeg Jets.
“I was literally speechless when it happened,” said Hellebuyck Saturday, “It’s surreal…I’ve had a mile-wide smile on my face since the pick, it’s still on and I can’t get it off.” Hellebuyck, who received serious interest from, by his estimation, seven to ten NHL teams in the leadup to the draft, says he had a feeling Winnipeg would end up topping his list of suitors. “A did a lot of interviews with teams, but the Jets really upped their interest in the past few days,” said Hellebuyck, “I had a pretty good inkling it’d be them.”
A Commerce, Michigan native, Hellebuyck dominated the South Division in his lone NAHL campaign, leading the league in appearances (53), minutes played (3084:37) and total saves (1695) in 2011-12 and, according to Hellebuyck, it’s that heavy workload that allowed him to blossom as a person and a player. “Playing all those games in one year is exactly what I needed,” said Hellebuyck, “The Jackalopes really gave me a chance…they set me up for success and with the amazing coaching and the support and work of the professional staff…thanks to them, I really couldn’t fail.”
Hellebuyck’s selection is not only a major milestone in the former Jacks backstop’s playing career, but also a significant step for the entire Jackalopes organization, says Odessa General Manager Joe Clark. “Congrats to Connor…he worked very hard this season and is passionate about what he does,” said Clark Saturday, “It’s also a big day for our organization, our staff, the South Division and the NAHL…[having players drafted] makes being a part of junior hockey worthwhile and our fans should be very proud.”
With their selection, the Jets will retain Hellebuyck’s professional rights through the conclusion of his NCAA career at UMass-Lowell, therefore, Winnipeg’s selection of Hellebuyck will not impact his college eligibility or plans to suit up in Hockey East in the 2012-13 season and beyond.
Hellebuyck was the second of two NAHL players selected in the 2012 draft, behind fellow South Division goaltender, Corpus Christi’s Anthony Stolarz. The New Jersey native was taken in the second round, 45th overall, by the Philadelphia Flyers.