Crease Crunch: Wings Must Shore up Goaltending Depth in the Offseason
Outside of Jimmy Howard and Joey MacDonald, this season has not been kind to goaltenders in Detroit’s farm system. Ty Conklin, who was supposed to be the Wings back-up goalie, is now in Grand Rapids trying to find his game after putting up a dismal 3.40 goals against and .878 save percentage in just 11 NHL games. The 35 year-old veteran has already improved with the Griffins posting a 1.40 goals against and a .940 save percentage in three starts.
Detroit’s other prospects in the professional ranks include Jordan Pearce and Thomas McCollum. Pearce, who has battled injuries all season long, has been limited to just 17 AHL contests. The 6-foot-1, 201 pound netminder hasn’t played nearly as well as last season seeing his goals against jump from last year’s 2.89 to 3.53. Pearce, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, was even demoted to Toledo of the ECHL for two games after returning from injury.
McCollum hasn’t performed much better, splitting time between Toledo and Grand Rapids. The 30th overall selection in the 2008 NHL entry draft has three professional seasons under his belt and has yet to establish himself as an AHL goaltender let alone show signs he can play in the NHL. This season McCollum has posted a decent 2.68 goals against and a .905 save percentage in 13 games with Toledo. His numbers in Grand Rapids aren’t nearly as respectable including a 3.59 goals against and a .883 save percentage in 15 AHL starts. While numbers don’t tell the full story on McCollum’s play, the Wings had hoped this would be the season that 22 year-old would rebound and secure a full-time AHL spot.
Detroit does have a lone bright spot outside of its professional system in Petr Mrazek. The 20 year-old goaltender is wrapping up his third and final season with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. In 45 games this season he’s posted an impressive 2.89 goals against and a .913 save percentage. Mrazek, who was selected 141st overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft by Detroit, was also the star of the 2012 World Junior Championship. The Vitkovice, Czech Republic native was named the tournament’s top goaltender after backstopping the Czechs to a fifth place finish which included a 52 save performance against the highly touted Americans.
With Mrazek turning pro next season, Detroit will only have four goaltenders under contract heading into the off season – Mrazek, Howard, Pearce and MacDonald. Ty Conklin is slated to become an unrestricted free agent, while Thomas McCollum will become a restricted free agents. Despite have one more year on his contract, Pearce may be on the outside looking in next season. The 26 year-old needed a big season to show that he could take his game to the next level. While he has played well enough to earn an AHL roster spot, Pearce is also four years older than McCollum and hasn’t shown he has NHL potential. He could find himself on the trade block in the off season or he may see time in the ECHL next season.
Despite his less than stellar play this season, McCollum is expected to re-sign and compete with Mrazek for AHL duty next season. A lot has been invested in developing McCollum, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Wings ink him for at least one more season in the hopes that he can finally turn the corner. Even if McCollum is re-signed for next year and the organization opts to keep Pearce, the Wings will take a long hard look at their depth and may sign at least one additional professional netminder who would serve as the third string back-up. While the Red Wings like the long term potential of Mrazek and still hold out some hope for McCollum, neither is ready for NHL duty even on a temporary basis.
Detroit will also need to address it’s long term goaltending situation. With Mrazek graduating to the professional ranks, the Wings management will try shore up depth by drafting a netminder from either the 2012 or 2013 NHL draft. The Red Wings have a spotty track record of developing goaltenders, but the success of Howard has proven that the organization depends on drafting and developing it’s own players.