If you asked Detroit Red Wings fans about Petr Mrazek a few years ago, they probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you much, if anything, about the goaltender.
Perhaps NHL scouts are at least partially to blame for that.
Mrazek was not a highly sought-after goaltender heading into the 2010 NHL draft. In fact, 13 goaltenders were drafted ahead of Mrazek, who was finally selected by the Red Wings in the fifth round at 141st overall.
None of that matters now, however, as the 21-year-old appears poised to make the jump to the NHL in the coming years.
Mrazek was born in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, which is now the Czech Republic. He first got a taste of North American hockey when he suited up for the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s in the 2009-10 season. After an average regular season in which he went 12-9-1, Mrazek stepped up in the playoffs, going 4-4 with a .928 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.
For the next two seasons Mrazek was one of the OHL’s top netminders. He posted back-to-back 30-win seasons, with a GAA below 2.90 and a save percentage above .915.
In 2012, Mrazek played a major role in the 67's securing the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and Ottawa went all the way to the conference finals before falling to the top-seeded Niagara Ice Dogs.
But that wasn’t even the most impressive stretch of Mrazek’s young career.
At the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Alberta, the Czech goaltender made a name for himself.
He had a remarkable tournament, highlighted by an outstanding performance in a 5-2 upset of Team USA in the round robin. He stopped 52 of the 54 shots he faced and nearly scored a goal on an empty net, just missing wide left.
Mrazek also showed off his personality in that game. Following the Czechs' goal to make it 4-2, Mrazek skated to his celebrating teammates and leapt over the pile. On the next goal, he celebrated by sliding on one knee and fist-pumping with his blocker, much to the delight of the crowd.
Despite a 2-1 overtime loss to Russia in the quarterfinals, Mrazek was still named the tournaments’ top goaltender.
It’s a mix of talent, passion and enthusiasm that make Mrazek a fun goaltender to watch, not unlike the best Czech goalie of all-time, Dominik Hasek. There are a few other similarities between the two netminders as well.
Both stand about 6'1" and have similar body types. Like Hasek, Mrazek makes up for his lack of size with rapid reflexes, quickness on his skates and unwavering confidence.
Hasek was also drafted late (199th overall) and had to wait until his mid-20s to play in the NHL, although that was more for political reasons than anything else.
Once he did make it to North America, Hasek played limited games with the Chicago Blackhawks, as Ed Belfour was the starter at the time. That is an experience Mrazek will likely endure in the coming years with Jimmy Howard at the helm in Detroit.
As for his professional career thus far, Mrazek played just three games with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye this past season before making the jump to Grand Rapids. He split time with Thomas McCollum, but was the superior goalie there, going 23-16-2 with a .916 save percentage and 2.33 GAA.
He made his NHL debut against the St. Louis Blues in February, stopping 26 of 27 shots to earn the win. His second start resulted in a loss to the Minnesota Wild, but Mrazek was still solid while allowing three goals.
Mrazek was dominant in the AHL playoffs, eventually leading the Griffins to their first Calder Cup in franchise history.
So where does he go from here?
Jonas Gustavsson has one year remaining on his contract with Detroit, so the best-case scenario for both the Red Wings and Mrazek is that he continues to develop with the Griffins next season and makes the jump to the NHL in 2014-15.