In 2013 Jimmy Howard proved that he is a goaltender who is capable of putting the Detroit Red Wings on his back to win games. The Wings signed Howard to a six-year extension during the season, making him a franchise netminder for the near future. While the back-up spot in Detroit is all but guaranteed to go to Jonas Gustavsson for the 2013-14 season, Petr Mrazek showed he is close to being ready to see more time at the highest level in his first taste of NHL action this season.
Mrazek started the season in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye, posting a 2-1-0 record before getting called up to the AHL. He ended up stealing the starter’s job with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and went on to have a rookie season that will be hard to forget. Mrazek was 23-16-2 with the Griffins and had an impressive 2.33 goals-against average. He was an AHL All-Star and finished the season near the top of the league in most goaltending categories. Once the playoffs rolled around, he elevated his game even more and helped the Griffins capture their first-ever Calder Cup championship. At one point in the postseason, he put up consecutive shutouts against the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild) and Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs), and could have taken home the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP were it not for the offensive exploits of teammate Tomas Tatar. He was 15-9 with four shutouts and a goals-against of 2.31 in the postseason.
The Red Wings also called on Mrazek for the first time during the lockout-shortened season, and he recorded his first win. He allowed only four goals in two starts, and showed incredible poise for a 21-year-old. While there may not be a spot for him in Detroit quite yet, the upcoming season could be a big one for the young goalie from the Czech Republic. Mrazek could get the call to represent his home country at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and will try and help a Griffins team that retained much of its talent repeat as AHL champs. Howard spent the better part of four seasons with the Griffins, so there’s definitely a precedent with the organization for Mrazek to remain there a while longer. He still needs to improve on his consistency, and another season of working closely with former Stanley Cup champion Chris Osgood can only help the youngster. The AHL playoffs saw him turn in a few poor games, but were almost always followed up by a lights-out performance. After a meteoric rise through the ranks during his first professional season, there’s little doubt that Mrazek is now one of the top prospects in the Red Wings’ organization – not bad for a former fifth round draft pick!