When the Nashville Predators lost star goaltender Pekka Rinne for a second consecutive season, things once again looked ready to fall apart. Backup goaltender Carter Hutton turned in a few good starts but ultimately struggled in full-time duty, leading the team to turn to its AHL prospects. Magnus Hellberg got his first taste of action on Oct. 26 and turned aside three of four shots faced in relief of Hutton, while Marek Mazanec made his debut in similar fashion on November 8. Mazanec stopped 22 of 24 shots in a loss to the Winnipeg Jets, but impressed enough to earn his first start four nights later.
While he only boasts a 2-2 record overall, Mazanec’s last two starts should give Predators fans a reason to keep hope alive. Last Saturday he turned aside 39 of the 41 shots he faced as the Predators rolled to a 7-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, and on Tuesday he stopped all 27 shots he faced against the Detroit Red Wings to earn his first career shutout. Nashville likely gives him another start on Thursday as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, and if he keeps playing this well he may find himself staying around instead of Hutton once Rinne is ready to return. He’ll be tested early and often by a Maple Leafs team that ranks 10th in goals per game (2.9) and has the second-best power play.
The Predators have once again struck gold with a late-round prospect, as Mazanec came their way in the sixth round in 2012. He played in five games for the AHL Milwaukee Admirals before getting called up, giving him only 10 games played in North America for his career heading into Thursday night’s action.