Meet the New Blackhawks: Petr Mrázek

Entering the offseason, the Chicago Blackhawks weren’t in a position to win, but they had to address their goaltending after both Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia hit the open market. They filled that void on July 7, by acquiring Petr Mrázek from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Related: Meet the New Blackhawks: Andreas Athanasiou

Mrázek, 30, will presumably take over the starting duties in Chicago come October. Despite showing promise during his early years with the Detroit Red Wings, Mrázek’s career hasn’t exactly gone to plan. However, he’ll give the Blackhawks a veteran presence in net even as the team might suffer its worst season in years.

Mrázek’s Journey

Mrázek’s NHL career goes back to the 2010 Draft when the Red Wings selected him in the fifth round. Before that, he played for HC Vítkovice Steel in the Czech Republic and then the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he spent time from 2009-12.

From 2012-14, Mrázek spent most of his time with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL) while also appearing in nine NHL games for Detroit. It wasn’t until 2014-15 that he got his first full taste of the NHL, appearing in 29 games with the Red Wings while posting a .918 save percentage. He followed that up with a career year in 2015-16, with a 27-16-6 record and a 2.33 goals-against average (GAA).

Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes
Petr Mrazek with the Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Though Mrázek put up solid numbers the following two seasons in Detroit, he regressed from his career year and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in Feb. 2018 as Detroit began their rebuild. Five months later, in July 2018, he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, where he mostly held the starting duties from 2018-20. While he once again was in a position to be Carolina’s No. 1 entering the COVID-abbreviated 2020-21 regular season, he suffered an upper-body injury early in the season and later split time with James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic.

In July 2021, Mrázek signed a three-year, $11.4 million deal with Toronto. While the Maple Leafs likely envisioned him as part of their goaltending future, it didn’t play out that way. He was placed on waivers in March and played one game with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Despite posting a respectable 12-6-0 record, he also had a career-low .888 save percentage, a noticeable drop in production from his early days with the Red Wings and Hurricanes.

Mrázek was a cap casualty in Toronto, which is how he ended up with the Blackhawks. Given his recent inconsistencies, Chicago fans should keep their expectations low for next season.

Mrázek is No More Than a Placeholder for Chicago

Since early in the offseason, Blackhawks general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson has referred to the team’s rebuild as a “five-year plan,” focusing on the long term as opposed to retooling and trying to get back into contention quickly, and like the recent unrestricted free agent (UFA) signings, Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi, Mrázek isn’t in Chicago to be a part of the team’s future. He could rebound from his career-worst season with the Maple Leafs, but that seems unlikely given Chicago’s roster.

Once thought of by some as Detroit’s goaltender of the future, Mrázek has become more of a below-average starter and an average backup, at best. That’s not to say he hasn’t had his share of successes, but his best days are well behind him, and it would be shocking to see him rebound in a way that resembles his play from the mid-2010s. He does, however, give Chicago something they need at this point in their rebuild: a veteran goaltender who isn’t signed long-term but can hold down the fort for now.

Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes
Petr Mrazek with the Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As of now, the Blackhawks have three promising goaltending prospects: Drew Commesso, Arvid Söderblom, and Jaxson Stauber. While there’s a chance all three could become Chicago’s No. 1 by the time they contend, all three still have a long way to go to prove themselves, and only Söderblom has had a taste of the NHL.

Though re-signing Lankinen and bringing up Söderblom would’ve been a viable route, the Blackhawks made a wise choice in trading for Mrázek, despite his cap hit, as well as signing Alex Stalock. It wouldn’t have been smart for Chicago to sign a high-profile UFA, like Darcy Kuemper or Ville Husso, but they needed a veteran to take over the position in the short term. Since he’s not set to become a UFA until 2024, Mrázek provides just that, and it’s certainly possible Chicago makes a similar move next offseason, depending on how close they are to contending.

For Chicago, an absolute dream scenario is that Mrázek lives up to his contract and becomes a trade chip by the trade deadline or next offseason like their recent free agent signings. While I don’t see that happening, Chicago fans should still hope for the best of Mrázek, even if he faces some pretty ugly losses. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with a chip on his shoulder, given how much adversity he faced last season.

Despite Inconsistencies, Mrázek Brings Stability to the Blackhawks

As a veteran goaltender in his early 30s, Mrázek is expendable and could be the first of a few No. 1 goaltenders the Blackhawks use before finding their long-term answer in net. However, he may be injury prone and not the flashiest name, but he will probably bring a sense of stability to the position since last season’s trade of Marc-André Fleury. Yes, Chicago is in a position to lose many games, but Mrázek at least gives the team a clear answer in net, even if it’s just for the short term.

Related: Blackhawks Should Consider These 5 Remaining Free Agents

Between Mrázek and Stalock, the Blackhawks’ goaltending right now is pretty much what you’d expect from a rebuilding club. Neither one will play a major role after these next few seasons, but acquiring both shows Davidson and his staff are committed to the long-term rebuild and don’t want to rush any of their prospects. This is the smart decision, unlike two years ago when the previous regime quickly gave Lankinen the starting duties as a rookie.

The Blackhawks are gearing up for a very bad campaign, but Mrázek is still an easy player to root for, considering the injuries and adversity he’s faced. It’ll probably take some pretty impressive results for him to become a fan favorite since he doesn’t have the same track record as someone like Fleury, and he won’t be part of Chicago’s future – I doubt he’ll be with the team after his contract expires – but he’s a decent option for now.