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College stopper on Chevy's list signs up

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AN emergency-plan college addition and an undrafted late bloomer is the latest addition to the Winnipeg Jets.

The NHL team signed 22-year-old Juho Olkinuora to a contract Sunday after the Helsinki native decided to leave the University of Denver after two years.

And with that, the Jets rather suddenly seem to be in very good shape with goaltending prospects.

"For us, it's part of the bigger picture trying to stockpile assets and stockpile prospects at all positions," GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Sunday.

"We're certainly not just focusing on the goaltending side of it. We're doing our best to try through whatever means, the draft or free-agent signings, trying to add some depth to that pool."

Along with Olkinuora, they have three other prospects still playing NCAA hockey.

One of them, 2012 fifth-round pick Connor Hellebuyck, will take the University of Massachusetts-Lowell into this Thursday's Frozen Four semifinal against Yale in Pittsburgh. Hellebuyck was named Hockey East's goalie of the year.

The other two are Winnipeg native Jason Kasdorf of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, named Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference rookie of the year and made the league's second all-star team, and Caledonia, Ont.'s, Jamie Phillips at Michigan Tech.

"We're certainly sitting anxiously watching Hellebuyck's team as they compete at the Frozen Four this week," Cheveldayoff said. "It's a great time for him and we're watching with great anticipation, as that team has gone a long way in a short period of time.

"And Kasdorf as well. Both came in as freshmen this year and earned their opportunities to gain more starts and continued to earn opportunities to be go-to guys on their teams."

Hellebuyck, 19, has played 23 games this season, with a record of 20-2, six shutouts, a goals-against average of 1.31 and a save percentage of .953.

Kasdorf, the former Portage Terriers goalie picked in the sixth round of 2011, played 23 games for RPI this season (14-5-2), with a 1.62 GA average and a .935 save percentage.

Olkinuora's record with the Pioneers this season was 13-6-5 and his save percentage .927 as he supplanted recruited scholarship goalies on the Pioneers' roster.

As the story goes, Olkinuora was a late addition at Denver in 2011 when No. 1 goalie Sam Brittain, drafted by Florida, required pre-season surgery. He had to pay his own way because the team's scholarships were used up.

The team had decided to add a third or "practice" goalie just in case and found him in the USHL.

When the Pioneers' other goalie, Adam Murray, got hurt early in the year, the they had no choice but to play Olkinuora, and by the time the other two netminders were healthy, they had a hard time pushing him out of the net.

This past season, Olkinuora was named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's second all-star team.

"A lot of people in our organization have seen him play, and he is a competitor," Cheveldayoff said. "He has shown some good attributes that a pro goaltender should.

"I've got to admit I defer more to people who know something about goaltending. I'm more of a guy (who says): 'Does he stop the puck, or doesn't he stop the puck?' Brian Renfrew, our college free-agent scout... he's seen him and Flats (goaltending coach Wade Flaherty) has seen him on tape, and it's an opportunity where he was going to leave school and we expressed the interest and I think it's going to work out well that he can get right into the system and start developing."

Olkinuora has agreed to a two-year entry-level deal and will join the AHL's St. John's IceCaps on an amateur-tryout contract for the remainder of this season.

Assembling a list of developing young goalies might take a little heat off the Jets for that position at the upcoming draft, but you never know how these things play out, Cheveldayoff said.

"A lot of it depends on how the draft unfolds in front of you as to whether there's a match. Fortunately for us, we had guys we had interest in being available late in the draft in each of the years."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2013 C3

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