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Red Wings overnight report: reverse-engineering Petr Mrazek

Drafting and developing athletic goaltenders requires a bit of reverse engineering. Goalies who naturally play an instinctive game and employ acrobatic saves when fundamentals fail them tend to make stops on shots that leave more conventionally-trained goaltenders flummoxed…But as these goaltenders move up the professional ranks, the ones who decline to rein in their tendencies to flop, flail and turn themselves into pretzels often also tend to fatigue more easily and tend to suffer injuries on a frequent basis.

The Red Wings have drafted a remarkably athletic goaltender in Petr Mrazek, and his competitive instincts tend to yield highlight-reel saves, but as he’s turning pro, Detroit goalie coach Jim Bedard faces an uphill task in attempting to tame something of a wild stallion. The Free Press’s George Sipple spoke to Ottawa 67’s goalie coach Tom Dempsey about Mrazek, who idolized Dominik Hasek growing up, and while Mrazek’s competitive nature serves him very well…

“They want to be the best they can be, they don’t want to be beaten,” Dempsey said of similarities Mrazek shares with Hasek and Fleury. “The similarity is there, in terms of that fire to keep the puck out of the net.”

Mrazek was in Traverse City last week for the Red Wings development camp, preparing to make the jump up from juniors. He went 30-13-6 with a 2.84 goals-against average last season and was part of the Czech Republic team at the World Championships. Dempsey said he was glad Mrazek had a chance to go to train with NHL players at the World Championships.

“He did play against Germany, he got in for 9 minutes, didn’t allow a goal on two saves,” Dempsey said. “Playing at that level was fantastic for him.”
...
“I had him for three years in Ottawa and the guys loved him,” Dempsey said. “He plays his best when the pressure is really on.”

Dempsey describes Mrazek as a hybrid goaltender.

“He’s got that European in him still, he’ll do a little poke check once in a while,” Dempsey said. “He’ll come across. I won’t say double stack, but something unorthodox. And then other times he’ll make it look so easy, by coming across with a traditional butterfly slide. Petr uses his hands really well. I think his stick is very good, too.”

Focusing on the fundamentals of goaltending while attempting to conserve momentum and energy are absolutely necessary areas of focus for Mrazek as he prepares to compete at the AHL level, as Dempsey told Sipple:

“I would say use of the stick for rebound control, which he’s improved dramatically, and the other thing is I noticed as we got into our playoffs I found him playing a little deep,” Dempsey said. “I was trying to encourage him as much as possible to play out at the top of his crease all the time, because the difference between the OHL and the AHL is huge. If he doesn’t play out, he will be in trouble.”

Mrazek stands up much more than he used to, and he’s a more measured goaltender now, but as the past week at the Wings’ development camp wore on, he tended to fall back upon his natural instincts, and as wonderful as they are, attempting to make a post-to-post split save resulted in a pulled groin and having to miss last Friday’s scrimmage. He can’t keep bending himself into a pretzel in the AHL, because bigger, stronger and more experienced players will be crashing into him while hoping to take advantage of any sort of over-commitment to stopping a single shot in dramatic fashion.

If I were to compare Mrazek’s to another reverse-engineered prospect in terms of the equation Mrazek faces in naturally-gifted athleticism versus his need to temper some of that with more poise and a less physically taxing style of play, I’d suggest that he’s much like Brendan Smith.

The Wings drafted Smith as a puck-rushing defenseman who pinched and tried to make daring dashes into the offensive zone almost fearlessly, having grown up playing hockey as a forward, but that reckless abandonment of defensive duties tended to leave his partners fending for themselves against odd-man rushes when Smith’s offensive instincts left him deeper in the offensive zone than any of his teammates as play went the other way, and Smith is still learning how to make safer and simpler plays as he graduates to the NHL level on a full-time basis, and he will need to time his puck-rushing even more carefully and employ it even more sparingly as he learns how to aid the Wings’ attack without surrendering goals against as a byproduct of his natural tendencies.

It’s a steep learning curve, but Smith has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, and Mrazek does possess a sound grasp of the fundamentals of a more measured style of play, so he should eventually evolve into a steady goaltender, but early on, sometimes Mrazek’s athleticism and competitiveness will yield highlight-reel saves, and sometimes he’ll be contorted into a human pretzel on one side of the crease while the rebounds of his over-athletic saves will find their way into the back of the other side of the crease.

 

Also of Red Wings-related note: It is indeed a “slow” morning—though it’s highly likely that we’ll find out what Tomas Holmstrom’s future holds this week, so it’s not exactly going to be dead, but this morning’s entry includes only two more stories:

• The first is a conversation between DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford and Red Wings and Maple Leafs alumnus Larry Jeffrey, who isn’t exactly a household name;

• And if you live in Northern Michigan, we know that Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene will bring the Stanley Cup to Lansing sometime this summer, and that Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth will bring the Cup to Amhertsburg, Ontario on August 21st, but especially if you live in the Upper Peninsula, your best chance to see the Cup might be when, according to the Sault Star’s Mike Verdone, Jordan Nolan  will bring the Cup to the Garden River First Nation reserve just east of the Canadian Sault on August 20th.

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Comments

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

Hey Geo if you find what day Greene will be in Lansing with the cup can you post it? Id like to get home to ssee it.

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 07/16/12 at 06:21 AM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

I would keep bedard far away from any of our goaltending prospects.

Posted by Keyser S. on 07/16/12 at 06:58 AM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

No way, remember how bad Jimmy used to be?  i told my dude if Ozzy went down and we had to rely on Howard we were doomed.  Then by the end of November he was breaking out and getting into a groove.  Bedard is quality.  Dont’ know who we have developing them at the lower level though.  Pearce showed promise, now he’s a nobody.  McCollum is scratching for another contract.  Geo who’s running crease monsters for the farm?

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 07/16/12 at 07:13 AM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

No way, remember how bad jimmy used to be when bedard was coaching him in grand rapids and then even more so when he came up?

Bedard had him playing ozzies game (cut down the angle by leaving the net) and it hurt him to begin with. When jimmy started playing his game (deep in net, rely on reflexes and positioning) he played much better. Jimmy even said that when he started out in the bigs. He said bedard wants him cutting off the angle by leaving the crease. It backfired.

Posted by Keyser S. on 07/16/12 at 07:41 AM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

Also highly touted young goalies liv, mccollum, larsson (kind of), howard never really reached the hype they were getting before playing for the griffins. I believe bedard goes down there a lot during the season, does he not?

Posted by Keyser S. on 07/16/12 at 07:47 AM ET

Bradley97's avatar

Bedard had him playing ozzies game (cut down the angle by leaving the net) and it hurt him to begin with. When jimmy started playing his game (deep in net, rely on reflexes and positioning) he played much better. Jimmy even said that when he started out in the bigs. He said bedard wants him cutting off the angle by leaving the crease. It backfired.

Are we watching the same goalie? Howard is one of the most aggressive challengers in the league, almost always playing at the top of the crease, and this did not change since he has emerged as the starter. Other teams have commented on his highly aggressive style and when they face him try to take advantage of his positioning to the point that he had to make regular lunges to the other side of the net whenever the Wings porous defensive play allowed the second man to sneak behind Howard for the easy tap-in. Vancouver discussed this before ending the home streak and Nashville before the first round series. If the Wings would take care of the other man defensively like they are supposed to then Howard’s Barrasso-like aggressive positioning would not burn him as much. On the other hand, in shootouts I always know when Howard will let in a goal simply by seeing if he stands his ground or retreats. Every time he retreated last season he let in the shootout goal. Based on that I’d rather he play aggressive behind a smart defense, and that falls to the coaches to get the team playing right again and not hanging Howard or Gustavsson out to dry.

Posted by Bradley97 on 07/16/12 at 08:11 AM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

Posted by Bradley97 on 07/16/12 at 06:11 AM ET

Agreed. But when howard first started playing he was a good 2-3’ outside the crease. And when he wondered that far out, the big man had trouble getting back.

Posted by Keyser S. on 07/16/12 at 08:27 AM ET

Avatar

Petr did not pull his groin in camp this week. He had a foot laceration and the trainers tried to pad it in the skate so it did not cause pain..they decided just to have him not play..He DID NOT pull a groin muscle and that is fact.

Posted by nickjones on 07/16/12 at 09:01 AM ET

Bradley97's avatar

Agreed. But when howard first started playing he was a good 2-3’ outside the crease. And when he wondered that far out, the big man had trouble getting back.

Posted by Keyser S. on 07/16/12 at 06:27 AM ET

I got you. Yeah, he still does that sometimes. He seems most comfortable just outside the top of the crease. So long as he does not retreat more than half way back he’s right where he needs to be for his size and style of play. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Gustavsson can do with his size and reflexes now that he has the freedom to position himself like Howard. The nice thing about having two goalies with good size and similar positioning is it makes it easier for the defense and the team in general to stick to a defensive scheme that helps maximize goalie potential. Like I wrote above, the onus is on the coaching staff to correct the defensive issues so neither goalie gets hung out to dry on on those side to side pass tap-ins. That’s simply inexcusable.

Posted by Bradley97 on 07/16/12 at 09:26 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Well I wasn’t informed of Mrazek’s condition, so I had to guess.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 07/17/12 at 05:16 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.