As the Blackhawks began a season of unknowns a month ago, much of the focus of the fans, media, and experts was on the young group of forwards led by Connor Bedard. It was commonly assumed that the defensive units and goaltenders would be subpar at best, and the real question was whether the heralded attackers could keep pace with the high scoring of their opponents.
Concerns about a potentially rough goaltending unit were completely valid. Starting in net was Petr Mrazek, the 31-year-old journeyman who was coming off a rough season where he posted a career-high 3.66 GAA. With his contract set to expire at the end of this season, Mrazek seemed like only a placeholder until 2020 second-round pick Drew Commesso was ready for the big show.
Behind Mrazek to open the season was 24-year-old Arvid Soderblom, who was viewed as a long-term project with plenty of runway to prepare for the NHL. After three appearances in the 2021-22 season, Soderblom got his first real taste of NHL action last season, playing in 15 games. He clearly wasn’t a finished product, allowing 3.45 GAA and posting a record of 2-10-2.
Instead of being the unit left behind in the Blackhawks’ rebuild, however, the pair of goaltenders has been a true bright spot for the team so far this season. The pair is tied for 13th in the league with a combined save percentage of .907. That number looks even better when you look at the poor defensive unit they’ve played behind, as the goaltenders have faced a constant barrage resulting in the second-most shots allowed per game in the NHL.
Soderblom a cornerstone
Additionally, if you don’t include the eight-goal stinker in Arizona, the team would be eighth in the entire NHL. After Soderblom allowed seven goals in that game, he bounced back by saving 36 of 39 shots in his next performance against the Devils. That’s a great sign for a young goaltender still looking to find his place in the league, and he’s clearly here to stay. Soderblom will continue to develop into what the Blackhawks hope will be a reliable franchise cornerstone for the next several years.
Mrazek back for more?
In the meantime, Mrazek may be playing his way into another contract in Chicago. He’s been truly impressive on the ice with a save percentage of .923. Even in games like the 4-0 loss to the Avalanche a few weeks ago, he’s made spectacular save after spectacular save, keeping his team in games as much as possible. Though he doesn’t exactly fit the timeline of the Blackhawks’ return to contention, the team could certainly use him for a few more years.
Commesso on his way
The “problem”: Commesso is coming, and he’s coming fast. The 21-year-old joined the professional ranks this season, and through four games, he’s been everything the Blackhawks could ask for and more. With a 1.76 GAA and .936 save percentage, he’s calm and poised in net. Though his excellent start is against AHL competition, it won’t be long before he’s tested in the NHL.
With Commesso on his way to the league, the Blackhawks may find themselves in a “predicament” at the end of this season. It’s clear they want Commesso with the team as soon as possible, but it’s important to let him fully develop before tossing him into the deep end. Will he prove he’s ready in time for the Blackhawks to trust him in net next season? If that’s the case, what does the team do with Mrazek? Logic says to let him walk in free agency, but his performance has been among the top netminders in the entire league.
The men in net for the Blackhawks have been nothing short of stellar so far this year, but the team has a big decision to make. It’s a great problem to have, though, and there’s no reason for Chicago to think about it just yet. In the meantime, all three goalies hope to continue to build upon their tremendous starts, forcing the front office into some tough decisions down the road.