With Jack Campbell off to a blazing start and throwing his name into the Vezina Trophy conversation with his numbers and play, the opposite can be said for Mrazek. He’s played in only two games and dealt with a lingering groin injury, prompting the Maple Leafs to look to the farm system for help in the short term.
Through three games into his young career, prospect Joseph Woll has answered the call and provided the type of play that’s expected from a backup goaltender. He’s helped ease the work load for Campbell during Mrazek’s absence. There have always been questions surrounding the Maple Leafs depth in the crease, but now it appears as if it’s looking better than ever. With his early season success in the NHL, if Mrazek continues to be hit by the injury bug, expect Woll to continue to challenge him for the backup role.
Mrazek’s Injuries Open Door for Woll
Mrazek has proven to be a reliable goaltender in the NHL, especially with the Carolina Hurricanes. In three seasons, he posted a .911 save percentage and a 2.48 goals against average. Decent numbers that you would want as a goalie that could get 30-40 starts. However, the big x-factor was if he was able to remain healthy.
Mrazek had 40 starts with the Hurricanes in 2018-19 and 38 in 2019-20. However, those games dwindled in his final season where he only started and played in 12, as he underwent surgery on his thumb. Fast forward to his career with the Maple Leafs, he sustained a groin injury in his first start against the Ottawa Senators and re-aggravated that same injury, missing four weeks.
We knew that Mrazek did have trouble staying healthy in the past, but seeing him get injured twice in his first two starts is very concerning considering his role. But it has opened the door for an opportunity. The good news this time around is that they have options in net as Woll and Erik Kallgren’s play has been noticeable. Woll, drafted back in 2016 62ndoverall, would be called up by the Maple Leafs at the beginning of November.
Woll has had some inconsistencies in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies, having a SV% above .880 and a GAA above three in his first two seasons. He looked better early on in the 2021-22 season, going 2-1 with a 3.38 GAA and a .895 SV%. With the need of a goaltender, they felt it was time to give one of their prospects a look in net.
Needless to say, it was something the Maple Leafs needed to do in the event that either Campbell or Mrazek went down with an injury. They just needed to see where the cards may fall and hope that they can get a strong performance from one of their prospects. Usually, the team struggles to find consist goaltending past their starter. This time around, good fortune was on their side as this is a move that’s paying off for both the team and Woll.
Woll’s Fantastic Start
Calling Woll’s start to his NHL career fantastic would be an understatement. He’s miles ahead from where he was in the minors and looks like a completely different goaltender. Whatever inconsistencies he had is completely gone as he looks like an NHL goaltender. It has been exciting to see him play and find that success as he deserves it whole heartedly.
He looked really strong in his first start, earning his first career win against the Buffalo Sabres. He then earned his first career shutout against the New York Islanders, stopping 20 shots in an emotional night. He followed that up with a 35-save performance in a 4-1 win against the San Jose Sharks. While Campbell could’ve played, head coach Sheldon Keefe elected to go with Woll and once again, it was the right move.
With his third straight win, Woll has put himself in some great company in Maple Leafs’ history.
Going 3-0 to start his career, Woll has allowed only five goals in three starts and is sporting an incredible 1.68 GAA and .939 SV%. This is an extremely small sample size for him, but it’s still impressive nonetheless that he’s putting up stellar numbers and the quality goaltending the team needs. He has a strong team in front of him that looks even better defensively than the previous season, which definitely helps.
It seems that with every game that he plays, he continues to get better and elevate his play in net. If he continues to impress, the team could be hard pressed to let him go back down to the Marlies.
Could Woll Surpass Mrazek?
The Maple Leafs brought Mrazek in for a reason, which is to try and provide the necessary play they need to win games. Through two starts, it’s worrisome considering he’s making $3.8 million and has spent most of his time on the injured list. Even when he played, Mrazek looked average. His 4.20 GAA and .877 SV% doesn’t look all that impressive.
Woll has done a great job coming in for Mrazek. He’s dialled in and focussed every time he’s on the ice. He has great poise, does a great job of tracking and locating the puck and gives the team the reassurance they need that he can be relied on. His confidence is at an all-time high as nothing seems to be getting by him and the team feeds off of it. Even when it seems like it’s a sure goal, Woll is there to deny an opportunity.
On the surface, it seems like Woll could definitely surpass Mrazek with his stellar play in his absence. When you see this kind of play you can’t help but think about how quickly he managed to step in to provide something that was missing. With the constant injuries concerns with Mrazek, all signs point to Woll potentially surpassing him as the backup.
However, the Maple Leafs put forth that kind of money because they also have confidence in Mrazek to provide that same kind of production. He has experience and let’s not forget what happened with Garret Sparks and how quickly giving the reigns to a goalie with little experience turned out.
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Despite the injuries and rough start, it doesn’t seem fair to quickly give up on a goalie that has had strong production in the past. Would general manager Kyle Dubas make a snap decision and move him? That’s very unlikely to happen. In the event that they do decide to move him, who would take on that contract and injury concerns? The return definitely won’t be strong and you end up losing the depth that they sought after and replaced in the offseason. There’s also his modified no-trade clause where can submit a 10-team no trade list.
When Mrazek comes back it’s most likely that Woll will be sent down to the Marlies. But it won’t be the last that we’ll see him. In the event that Mrazek does get injured again or if he isn’t providing strong results, expect to see Woll up sooner than later. Then you could possibly make a decision on Mrazek’s future.
Woll has definitely made a strong impression with the Maple Leafs, but is it enough to move on from Mrazek? Probably not, but there’s still a lot to like with his game in the crease. While Woll may get sent down, it’s not a knock on his play as he’s been outstanding.
Until then, let’s enjoy his success but take everything in stride as the promise and potential is there.
Statistics from Hockey Reference.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.