Ondrej Pavelec of Chicago Wolves
Ross Dettman | Chicago Wolves
Ondrej Pavelec of Chicago Wolves after winning 2008 Calder Cup
Ross Dettman | Chicago Wolves
Ondrej Pavelec appears good enough to be an NHL starting goalie right now.
He's proven that through five games with the Chicago Wolves.
Pavelec has given up just 7 goals in all, allowed no more than 2 in any game and has stopped 143 shots.
At the AHL level, he's been in his own class.
But Pavelec isn't in the NHL and probably isn't headed there anytime soon, and that's actually OK with him. Unlike most top AHL players, he isn't bitter about being in the minors.
Next year, though, will be a different story. He won't be so understanding if he's back here again.
When the Atlanta Thrashers started him only once in the preseason and demoted him to the Wolves late into training camp, Pavelec and his agent decided to send a message and delayed his return to Chicago.
It was an uncharacteristic move for the always-chipper 21-year-old from the Czech Republic, but one he found necessary.
"It wasn't about this season because I expected to play in Chicago," Pavelec said. "We did it because next year I don't want to come to training camp again and have no chance to make a team. That's why we did it. We're happy we did. Now it's behind us, it's behind me, and we're fine."
With the Wolves this season, Pavelec has displayed that everything is cool with him on and off the ice. His play has spoken for itself, while in the locker room and at practice he's returned to his work ethic and personality that made him a star and fan favorite last year.
A season ago, Pavelec experienced a rookie's dream year. He began by making his professional debut as the Wolves' starter, and soon after due to injuries with the Thrashers found himself starting in the NHL. He eventually returned to the Wolves and protected their net on the way to a Calder Cup. He allowed 2.33 goals per game in the playoffs.
This season, feeling even more relaxed and confident, he's taken his game to another level.
"Obviously, he's come in and has played especially well," said Wolves general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. "We rode on his shoulders to a Calder Cup championship last year, but that isn't the be-all, end-all to his career. Certainly in our mind, the sky's the limit for this kid. I stress the word kid because that's what he is."
Pavelec is considered the Thrashers' second top prospect by hockeysfuture.com. The only thing holding Pavelec back from the NHL right now appears to be Thrashers starting goalie Kari Lehtonen, who at 25 is one of the NHL's top young goalies.
Eventually, the Thrashers may have to choose which star to go with.
"He's one of those guys down the line that you will say, 'Remember when he played for the Wolves,'" Cheveldayoff said of Pavelec. "The fans of Chicago are witnessing a player who's going to make a great impact in the National Hockey League."