Our tour through the Red Wings’ roster continues today with a stop at a young player who gave a brief but tantalizing look at the future of the team’s backup goaltender position – and perhaps, in a hypothetical Jimmy Howard-less further future, the No. 1 spot in the crease as well.
Looking Back at Petr Mrazek‘s 2013:
Quick, who led Detroit in goals against average this season? It wasn’t Howard, despite his perfectly fine 2.13, but Mrazek with a 2.02. And while his number was mostly the result of the scourge of statheads everywhere, the small sample size, it showed why the 21-year old Czech went from someone most notable for the lack of vowels in his name to a player every Red Wings fan should know.
Since Ken Holland signed Jonas Gustavsson to a two-year, $3 million deal before the season, it almost certainly wasn’t the plan to have Mrazek in Detroit at all in 2013. Plans are made to go awry, though, and with Gustavsson sidelined with a groin injury and the since departed Joey MacDonald also injured, he got the call from Grand Rapids on February 4.
Mrazek got his first NHL start on February 7, immediately setting the hearts of Wings fans on the internet aflutter as he made 26 saves during a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues. He got another chance 10 days later, surrendering three second-period goals in a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Then with Gustavsson healed and Howard requiring few breaks the rest of the way, Mrazek bid adieu to Detroit for the duration.
For the Griffins, he split goaltending duties with Thomas McCollum but got more of the work (42 appearances to 31) and had superior stats across the board in everything except shutouts. Mrazek really caught fire once the Calder Cup playoffs began, recording four shutouts through Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
Looking Ahead to 2013-14:
Though there are plenty of Red Wings fans who would love to see Mrazek backing up Howard next season, the fact is that he’s most likely due for another big dose of life in Grand Rapids. Gustavsson makes too little on his contract to be worth a buyout, and Howard just got finished proving he’s fine shouldering a large amount of the workload.
At his age, Mrazek is better off getting regular playing time anyway, which he’ll get with the Griffins. The intrigue is that he was a fifth round pick, and has so far statistically outperformed former first rounder McCollum. But having two good young goalies in the pipeline is a good problem to have, and not one that the Wings need to worry about at the moment (though McCollum is a restricted free agent).
If injuries happen to strike Howard, Mrazek has shown enough composure that Holland shouldn’t hesitate calling him back up. Otherwise, it will be at least one more year until he’s a regular at Joe Louis Arena, and that’s okay. Time is on his side.