The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/16/12 at 05:34 AM ET
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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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.