The Nashville Predators appear to be investing in Marek Mazanec instead of Magnus Hellberg for the 2015-16 season. Earlier this week, the Preds re-signed goaltender Marek Mazanec to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL level. This re-signing decreases the likelihood of restricted free agent Hellberg remaining in the organization for next season.
Mazanec and Hellberg shared net time last season in Milwaukee. Despite better numbers, Hellberg saw ten less starts than Mazanec. Hellberg posted a 15-10-6 record, 2.33 goals against average, .913 save percentage and three shutouts, while Mazanec had a 18-18-4 record, 2.76 GAA, .900 SV% and four shutouts. Hellberg was also named to the AHL All-Star Game.
Hellberg, 24, was drafted in the second round by the Predators in 2012 and has played in just one game at the NHL level. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound native of Uppsala, Sweden has been unable to jump the goaltending depth chart due in part to Mazanec’s NHL success. Mazanec, 23, has an 8-11-4 record, 2.77 GAA, .902 SV% and two shutouts in 27 career NHL games.
Mazanec is not the only factor in Hellberg’s possible departure, however.
Nashville’s 2013 fourth round pick Juuse Saros has shown a lot of potential at only 20 years old and is likely to come to North America next season.
Saros is considered one of, if not the best goalie prospect in the world. At 19, he left the Finnish junior league to turn pro in the SM-Liiga for HPK. In 2014-15, Saros was 13-17-16 with a 2.14 GAA, .929 SV% and six shutouts.
For the second consecutive year, Saros has represented his native Finland in both the Under-20 World Junior Championships and Men’s World Championship. Both times at the World Championships, he has backed up Pekka Rinne. A Rinne-Saros duo is Nashville’s goalie future.
For what Saros lacks in size, standing at 5-foot-10, he makes up for in quickness and efficiency.
“He’s smallish but has very quick reflexes,” NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com in 2013. “He’s difficult to beat up close to the net and he’s excellent on rebounds.”
If Saros does make the decision to play in North America next season — as he should — that would ultimately mean Hellberg’s time with the Predators would be coming to an end.
It may not be a bad thing for Hellberg’s career since he would be following in similar footsteps as Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling. A victim of Nashville’s superb goalie depth, Darling hit the free agent market to be signed to a one-year deal with the Blackhawks. After outplaying Antti Raanta, Darling secured the backup spot behind Corey Crawford and received a two-year contract extension through 2016-17.
Hellberg has a lot of talent to go along with his large frame. Many teams lacking goalie depth will be looking to give him a shot in their system. Odds are, he will take advantage of it.
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Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.