Some Vancouver Canucks prospect news broke this afternoon when it was announced that G Thatcher Demko had been traded… in the WHL. The 19-year old netminder previously had his junior rights held by the Spokane Chiefs, but was dealt to the Calgary Hitmen. So does this mean that Demko is leaving the NCAA and coming north?
Read past the jump for the answer.
Spokane has traded the rights for G Thatcher Demko to @WHLHitmen in exchange for conditional 2015/16 draft selection(s).
— Spokane Chiefs (@chiefshockey) December 16, 2014
First, let’s review what we know: both the Spokane Chiefs and Calgary Hitmen have been top-end clubs in the WHL in terms of controlling the shot clock, ranking 3rd and 2nd in the WHL respectively. Thanks in large part to a larger collection of top-end offensive talent (at least by WHL standards) however, the Hitmen have a better record and sit 2nd in the Central division with 41 points, 7 behind division leading Medicine Hat and one ahead of Red Deer.
Jake Virtanen is leading the Hitmen in scoring, but he’s followed closely by Adam Tambellini, Connor Rankin, Chase Laing, Radel Fazleev, and defenseman Travis Sanheim. Of course, the Hitmen are also seeing some favourable bounces on offense, as their team shooting percentage of 12.6% ranks 3rd in the WHL. The one area where Calgary has struggled is in goal. Both 19-year old Mack Shields and rookie backup Evan Johnson have an 0.899 save percentage on the year, and while that isn’t terrible, it’s a pretty far cry from he 0.920 being posted by Kelowna’s Jackson Whistle, and the 0.918 from Medicine Hat’s over-age import Marek Langhammer.
Unless he’s Jack Campbell (which is still entirely possible at this point), Demko would likely be an upgrade in goal for the Hitmen. It’s unclear if he’d be among the best goalies in the WHL – Jets prospect Eric Comrie is pretty dominant – but with his pedigree and experience both in the NCAA and internationally, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Demko to stop pucks at a very high-end rate in the WHL.
It’s worth noting though that the NCAA is an entirely different animal than the CHL. For some reason, save percentages are ridiculously inflated in college hockey. Demko’s 0.927 looks like a dominant performance, but the top guys all hover around Dominik Hasek-like levels of stopping pucks. The top-3 NHL prospects in the NCAA this season are carrying save percentages of 0.944, 0.939, and 0.938 respectively. Connor Hellebuyck, another Jets prospect, had an NCAA save percentage over 0.940 for his career.
So we know that Demko is a very highly touted goalie, and we know that the Calgary Hitmen are a legitimate contender in the WHL’s East, along with the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Brandon Wheat Kings. So does Spokane trading Demko’s WHL rights to the Hitmen mean that Demko is going to be leaving Boston College to come to the WHL? Well, that seems unlikely.
Although Boston College is in the middle of the pack in Hockey East’s standings, Demko is the clear #1 goalie and getting nearly every start. He’s played 16 of 17 games he’s been eligible to appear in, and BC has a pretty strong roster, featuring NHL prospects Alex Tuch, Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini, Adam Gilmour, Ryan Fitzgerald, and 2015 eligible Noah Hanifin. They’re ranked among the top-20 teams in the USA as well, speaking to how competitive Hockey East is.
In other words, Demko has a good thing going in the NCAA and it seems unlikely he’d give it up to move to the WHL. There are no completion requirements for the NCAA, so he’s AHL eligible right now, and moving to the CHL wouldn’t accelerate the process of going pro at all. The biggest advantage of moving to the WHL would be an increase in playing time, but given his commitment to the World Juniors, that would likely only amount to a couple hundred minutes over the course of the regular season, and significant playing time in the playoffs is no given. This seems like a low-risk home-run swing on behalf of the Calgary Hitmen, and Demko seems unlikely to be going anywhere.