The Detroit Red Wings’ crease is in capable hands for many years to come.
That’s not just because starter Jimmy Howard is entering his prime and recently signed a six-year contract extension through 2019 — it’s also because the Red Wings have an unheralded 21-year-old who is showing all of the attributes that could make him a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL some day soon.
Petr Mrazek, who sits No. 2 on Red Wings Central’s final ranking of the 2012-13 season, has followed up an impressive AHL rookie campaign with an even better playoff run and has the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Calder Cup Final against the Syracuse Crunch starting Saturday.
Mrazek just missed knocking off Calle Jarnkrok on RWC’s list, but the margin was slim between the skilled, hard-working Swedish Elite League MVP candidate and the dynamic, entertaining Czech stopper.
Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill told Red Wings Central earlier this year that Mrazek has three special attributes going for him: self-confidence, competitiveness around the net and a likeable personality. He said all of that adds up to make Mrazek a very special goaltender.
“He has great confidence, great moxie — he doesn’t let anything bother him at all,” Blashill said. “Whether it’s making the jump from junior to pro or being in a high-pressure game, things just don’t bother him. He has great belief in himself. And he’s an outstanding person — it’s like talking to somebody older than he is. And he competes really hard around the net — he doesn’t give up any freebies. He’s on the puck hard and he reads the play really, really well.
“As he continues to develop, he’ll put himself in a real good position down the road.”
Although The Hockey News didn’t include Mrazek in their top 75 prospects — Jarnkrok was the only one to make the Future Watch edition among those in this ranking, checking in at No. 31 — he’s certainly a steal of a fifth-round pick and he’s improved by leaps and bounds since being selected in 2010.
Through three AHL playoff rounds, Mrazek has an MVP-caliber 11-7 record with four shutouts, a 2.18 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Those numbers are even better than his regular season stats (23-16-2, 1 SO, 2.33 GAA, .916 Sv%).
Howard has a firm hold on the Red Wings’ top job, but his contract includes trade options starting in 2015-16 if Mrazek is ready. And all signs point to Mrazek being ready sooner than later.
Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco, a pair of Slovak wingers, and center Riley Sheahan, round out the top five, while a trio of puck-moving defensemen — Ryan Sproul, Mattias Backman and Xavier Ouellet — are nipping at their heels in slots six through eight. Two-way center Landon Ferraro and hard-shooting winger Martin Frk round out the top 10.
Following is a rundown of the final RWC ranking of 2012-13.
1. Calle Jarnkrok (–), C, Brynas (SEL), 53-13-29-42, minus-2, 136 shots.
Jarnkrok was one of the best players in the Swedish Elite League but he didn’t produce much during a nine-game AHL stint or in 10 games with Sweden at the IIHF world championship. Regardless, he’ll have a chance at an NHL job in the fall if he gets stronger in the off-season.
2. Petr Mrazek (–), G, Grand Rapids (AHL), 42 GP, 2.33 GAA, .916 Sv%.
3. Tomas Tatar (–), LW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 61-23-26-49, plus-8, 205 shots.
Tatar has put in four solid seasons on the farm and has shown well in his NHL call-ups. His passion and energy along with his hands and offensive skills should make him a key cog in Detroit for years to come. No longer waiver-exempt, he’ll be on Detroit’s roster in 2013-14.
4. Tomas Jurco (–), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 74-14-14-28, plus-6, 119 shots.
Ignored in The Hockey News’s top-10 team ranking, Jurco was one of the AHL’s youngest players. But he came into his own late in the season — 14 points in his final 22 games — and has been absolutely clutch in the playoffs. Jurco has star potential and could be a top AHL scorer next season.
5. Riley Sheahan (-1), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 72-16-20-36, plus-5, 115 shots.
He hit a late-season wall, but that’s to be expected after years of 40-game seasons at Notre Dame. All things considered, it’s been a solid AHL rookie season for Sheahan on the ice. He needs more seasoning, but he’s the type of big, strong two-way center that is hard to come by in the NHL.
6. Ryan Sproul (-1), D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), 50-20-46-66, even.
Despite breaking his arm and missing six weeks early in the season, Sproul led OHL defenseman in points and was named the CHL’s defenseman of the year. It’s hard not to get excited about a 6-foot-4 power-play quarterback, and he’ll strut his stuff in the AHL next season.
7. Mattias Backman (+1), D, Linkoping (SEL), 52-2-24-26, plus-5, 67 shots.
He’s already averaging 20 minutes a night in the Swedish Elite League and among the country’s top defense scorers. He’ll stay overseas for one more year, and if he continues to develop, there’s no telling how soon he could crack the Red Wings lineup.
8. Xavier Ouellet (-1), D, B.-Boisbriand (QMJHL), 50-10-31-41, plus-14, 166 shots.
Ouellet has been the best and most complete defenseman in the QMJHL for two seasons and made a good impression with a strong performance for Canada at the 2013 IIHF world junior championship. Ouellet is ready for his next challenge in the AHL with Grand Rapids.
9. Landon Ferraro (–), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 72-24-23-47, plus-6, 156 shots.
Ferraro’s development is on a similar track as Cory Emmerton’s. That means he’s on course to crack the Red Wings lineup in 2014-15 when his waiver exemption runs out. In the meantime, the two-way speedster will return to Grand Rapids in 2013-14 and fine-tune his game.
10. Martin Frk (+2), RW, Halifax (QMJHL), 56-35-49-84, plus-31, 180 shots.
Frk had a dream season after his nightmarish draft year. He’s a hard-shooting winger whose foot-speed, discipline and defensive play have been heavily criticized. He faces the daunting task of establishing himself on a deep Grand Rapids roster as an AHL rookie next season.
11. Teemu Pulkkinen (+1), RW, Jokerit (FIN), 59-14-20-34, plus-5, 260 shots.
He had an up-and-down season in the Finnish SM-Liiga before coming to Grand Rapids and earning a lineup spot in his first North American stint. He’s a talented sniper with a shoot-first mentality, but he’ll have to prove he’s not one-dimensional in his first full AHL season in 2013-14.
12. Andreas Athanasiou (+5), LW, Barrie (OHL), 66-29-38-67, plus-13.
Slowly but surely, Athanasiou has found the swagger that had many touting him as a potential top-15 pick a year before the 2012 draft. The blazing fast winger tied for fifth in OHL playoff scoring and is starting to look like a fourth-round steal. He’ll return to the OHL in 2013-14.
13. Nick Jensen (+7), D, St. Cloud State (NCAA), 42-4-27-31, plus-19, 76 shots.
Jensen was unfairly knocked down in RWC’s mid-season ranking and his leap up the list is the correction of a wrong. Long a favorite of RWC, Jensen capped his college career in style and has the skating and physical maturity to make a smooth transition to the AHL in 2013-14.
14. Alexey Marchenko (+1), D, CSKA Moscow (KHL), 44-4-5-9, minus-3, 46 shots.
Seven spots separate Marchenko from Mattias Backman, but eventually, he might be just as good. After signing with the Red Wings, the mobile two-way, right-shooting puck-mover will likely step right into the Grand Rapids lineup as an AHL rookie next season.
15. Adam Almquist (+1), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 68-10-21-31, plus-13, 93 shots.
A supremely smart and skilled power-play quarterback, Almquist lacks the size and mobility of the five blueliners ranked ahead of him, yet might be the closest to an NHL call-up. If he can emerge as a top-10 defense scorer in the AHL next season, the Red Wings might have something.
16. Jake Paterson (-2), G, Saginaw (OHL), 25-18-5, 3.53 GAA, .901 Sv%.
Despite playing on one of the weaker teams in the OHL, Paterson had a good season and showed enough to win the third-string job on Canada’s world junior team. Expect an even better OHL season in 2013-14 as he continues to progress toward a contract with the Red Wings.
17. Mitchell Callahan (NR), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 71-11-9-20, minus-3, 136 shots.
Callahan did everything that could have been asked of him as an AHL sophomore, establishing himself as a regular in Grand Rapids with his grit and energy and chipping in with timely offense. He has a chance at a grind-line type NHL role similar to Jordin Tootoo.
18. Jared Coreau (NR), G, Northern Michigan (NCAA), 15-19-4, 2.70 GAA, .919 Sv%.
Considered by many as the NCAA’s top free-agent goalie, Coreau’s signing bolstered the Red Wings’ goaltending depth. He could be earmarked for an ECHL starting role or, depending on what becomes of former first-rounder Thomas McCollum, an AHL backup gig.
19. Marek Tvrdon (-1), LW, Vancouver (WHL), 18-8-14-22, plus-2.
Tvrdon has now lost the better part of two of the past three seasons with injuries and it’s stunted his development. Similar to Tomas Jurco with his combination of size and skill, Tvrdon will turn pro next season and might benefit from a big ECHL role in Toledo.
20. Louis-Marc Aubry (NR), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 64-4-8-12, minus-2, 80 shots.
Aubry actually had more goals, assists, points and shots as an AHL rookie than he had as a sophomore. There’s plenty to like about the 6-foot-4 center, but he’ll need to elevate himself beyond an AHL supporting role next season to have a chance at the NHL.
21. Max Nicastro (NR), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 25-1-2-3, even, 18 shots.
It wasn’t easy to get a read on Nicastro as an AHL rookie. Although he’s big — listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds — he couldn’t establish himself in the Grand Rapids lineup as an AHL rookie. Now 23 years old, the clock is starting to tick on his NHL chances.
22. Trevor Parkes (NR), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 36-3-6-9, plus-5, 43 shots.
The gritty Parkes is another grind-line type who is a cut behind Mitchell Callahan. He struggled to stay in the AHL lineup with Grand Rapids but lit up the ECHL during his second-half stints with Toledo. He’ll likely have a full-time AHL job next season and could surprise.
23. Richard Nedomlel (NR), D, Swift Current (WHL), 72-7-21-28, minus-13.
The Red Wings don’t have many prospects in their system like this 6-foot-5, 231-pound behemoth. A Czech who relishes physical contact and hitting, Nedomlel is a defensive-minded blueliner who will look to establish himself in the AHL with Grand Rapids next season.
24. Ben Marshall (NR), D, Minnesota (NCAA), 40-8-11-19, plus-8, 73 shots.
After emerging as a top-four defenseman and power-play quarterback for one of the NCAA’s top teams in the second half, all signs point toward a breakout campaign for Marshall in 2013-14. He’s a small but gifted offensive defenseman who is worth keeping an eye on.
25. James De Haas (NR), D, Penticton (BCHL), 53-5-19-24.
A real long-term project, the mobile, 6-foot-4 De Haas quietly put together a good season at the junior A level with Penticton. But the real test comes next season, when he’ll suit up for Clarkson and show the Red Wings what he can do at the bigger, faster NCAA level.