Petr Mrazek was once considered a rising star, someone who looked as if he would become one of the NHL’s elite goalies.
He’s young enough to still reach that status.
“It’s a new chapter, a new life, and I’m looking forward to it,” the Flyers’ new goaltender said Tuesday after arriving at the Wells Fargo Center.
The 26-year-old Mrazek, acquired Monday night in a trade that sent two conditional draft picks to Detroit, served as Alex Lyon’s backup Tuesday against Montreal, but he figures to get the bulk of the starts the rest of the season.
“I didn’t play much in the first half of the season, and I think it was tough for me to find my game,” said Mrazek, who was used in just 22 games before the trade. “But during that stretch, I worked hard on the ice to try to improve my game, and I think in the last two months, my game was in the right direction.”
The Czech Republic native allowed one goal or fewer in six of his last 10 games with the Red Wings, whose No. 1 goalie is Jimmy Howard.
After finding out he had been traded late Monday night, Mrazek had two hours’ sleep before getting up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Philadelphia. That’s one of the reasons he didn’t start Tuesday’s game.
His career numbers: a 72-58-20 record with a 2.60 goals-against average, 13 shutouts (including all three of Detroit’s this season), and a .912 save percentage in 166 games.
Starting against Columbus
Coach Dave Hakstol said he had “all the confidence” in Lyon, but that Mrazek was a “proven guy.” Mrazek is expected to start Thursday’s game against visiting Columbus.
Adding Mrazek was necessary because Michal Neuvirth will miss four to six weeks with a lower-body injury. That means the earliest the veteran goalie figures to return is in late March, the last week of the regular season.
Brian Elliott, who underwent abdominal surgery last week, isn’t expected to return until at least March 20, based on general manager Ron Hextall’s estimation.
Mrazek drew praise from his new teammates.
Flyers center Val Filppula was with Detroit when Mrazek was in the Red Wings system but never played with the goalie. But in later years, he made a lasting impression on Filppula.
“He challenges [shooters] a lot, and he’s really quick side to side,” Filppula said.
Like Jake Voracek, Radko Gudas played with Mrazek on a Czech Republic national team.
“I think our goalies were doing a really good job … and keeping teams honest, and I think he’s going to do the same thing,” Gudas said.
Captain Claude Giroux said the injuries to Neuvirth and Elliott were just part of the territory.
“You look at Vegas. They had a lot of goalie injuries and they had guys stepping in and getting the job done,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for right now.”
Giroux called the 6-foot-2, 181-pound Mrazek “a real dominating goalie, and it’s exciting to have him on our team.”
Mrazek is not only trying to help steer the Flyers into the playoffs, but he is in an audition of sorts. He can become a restricted free agent in July and, with a solid finish to the season, the Flyers might give him a $4 million qualifying offer.
“I’m open to everything and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “The first thing right now is to make the playoffs.”