Regner: Mrazek has proven he belongs in NHL

Petr Mrazek combines his high hockey IQ with a confident demeanor that has the Wings completely at ease with having him in net.

John E. Sokolowski

When Red Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard is asked about young goalie Petr Mrazek, you can hear the enthusiasm in his voice.

"He’s the type of kid who is very aware of how good he is and he embraces the challenge, I can tell that," Bedard said. "But at the same time he’s not intimidated, nor does he feel that he doesn’t belong in this league. He exudes confidence, he practices hard and he battles them (opposition skaters) for every puck."

Bedard isn’t alone in his praise for the young goaltender. You can ask just about anyone in the Wings’ organization and they cannot hide their giddiness about Detroit’s 5th round pick (141st overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Former Red Wings goalie and FOX Sports Detroit broadcaster Chris Osgood has been touting Mrazek since his junior days when the 6-1, 184-pound goalie was playing for the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League.

Osgood was coaching for the Wings and he travelled around to various hockey leagues to watch and evaluate all of Detroit’s goaltending prospects, and it was Mrazek that stood out.

"Detroit’s going to love this guy," I remember Ozzie telling me a few years ago. "I don’t know if it’s because he’s a Czech, but he has a lot of Dom (Dominik Hasek) in him.

"Petr never gives up on a play and he has the ability to forget a bad goal or a bad game instantly and be ready to focus on the next play or game."

Mrazek turned pro in 2012 and began the season with the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL, but it was a short stay before he was called up to Detroit’s top minor-league team, the Grand Rapids Griffins.

"I was at the first game when he played in Toledo and they won 3 to 2," Bedard recalled. "I think and they were outshot 45 to 25 or something and he was the reason why they won.

"After the game I went down and talked to Nick Vitucci (Toledo’s director of hockey operations) and he said that ‘this will be a kid that will be here for a short while.’ He ended up playing two more games in Toledo."

Once in Grand Rapids, Mrazek helped reverse the fortunes of a Griffins team that started slowly out of the gate. He quickly established himself as the number one goalie and would be a key component to Grand Rapids winning the Calder Cup as champions of the American Hockey League.

During the Griffins’ playoff run, Bedard knew that Mrazek was a money goalie by the way he was treated and looked upon by the veterans on the Grand Rapids roster.

"When your teammates believe in you they’re going to play a certain way and they trust you’re going to make the save when you have to, when to freeze the puck to get a faceoff, where to leave the puck, how to play odd man rushes, how to play shots from the point," said Bedard. "When veteran American League players, guys with National League experience are telling me that (they have confidence in Mrazek), I was very impressed."

Mrazek was just 21 years old when the Griffins won their championship, and with no definitive timelime for the return of Red Wings All-Star goalie Jimmy Howard from a groin tear and backup Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson still a few weeks away from returning as he nurses a separated shoulder, the Wings’ number one goalie is a 22-year-old kid.

While that may make some Wings fans a bit uneasy, Bedard knows Mrazek will be able to handle and excel at this opportunity. If there was any doubt in Bedard’s mind that Mrazek wasn’t ready for the NHL stage, it was erased on Nov. 20 in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg is a tough building to play in because all 15,200 fans are extremely focused once the puck is dropped. The atmosphere could be intimidating to a young player, especially a young goalie who was just called up, but that wasn’t the case with Mrazek.

"On the first dump in of the game, he comes out of the net grabs it (the puck) and bang, he beats two guys with an outlet pass and we’re off to the races and we end up scoring a goal off of that," Bedard happily recalled. "We were just amazed at the composure that he would do this in this building. 

"It was our third game in four nights and he managed to get a win just by battling, battling, battling, it’s amazing."

Over the years the Wings have drafted players that have a high hockey IQ; Mrazek combines his high hockey IQ with a confident demeanor that has the Wings completely at ease with having him in net.

From management, to Detroit’s coaching staff, to his teammates, Mrazek has proven that he belongs in NHL. He is no longer considered a prospect.

"It’s not like he feels that he’s not ready for this," Bedard said. "Petr has his feet on the ground, he shows up everyday prepared to work and he understands that this is a job and a responsibility going forward.  

"He’s a dream to coach. Whatever we do he goes at it one-hundred percent and that makes it easy for me."