Canucks fans don’t want another goaltending controversy. The fanbase – shaken, perhaps, by the events of the past three years and painfully aware that all it’s going to take for a Ryan Miller/Jacob Markstrom controversy to heat up is a single hot or cold streak – would probably wecome some peace, quiet and stability in net for about a decade.
The bad news is that we’re probably going to be dealing with another one of these goalie battles in a couple of years. The good news is that Thatcher Demko’s upside appears to be worth the eventual re-aggravation.
Demko is a goalie that plays with a calm and maturity that is rare for a goalie of his age — making his NCAA debut as a 17-year-old. He relies on technique and positioning, using his large frame and good lateral mobility to make it a challenge for shooters to find holes. He plays an efficient game with little wasted movement. –Hockey’s Future
The Canucks drafted Demko with the 36th overall pick at the 2014 Entry Draft. It was an odd, transitional time for the Canucks in ne: the club had already dealt their elite tandem of Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, and were mere days away from signing Miller. Obviously the club’s decision to draft a goaltender with a relatively high draft pick raised some eyebrows, but considering that Demko was likely to be several years away from turning pro and was the top-rated goaltender on the board, the pick made a good deal of sense.
Looking at how Demko had performed in his freshman year at Boston College made the selection all the more intriguing. At the ripe young age of eighteen, the San Diego native posted a very impressive 0.919 save percentage over 24 games, the 17th best save percentage in college hockey and 4th amongst first-year players. His being committed to the NCAA made things a little easier for the Canucks as well; they could draft a quality prospect without burning a contract spot.
Demko followed up on his dynamic first year in the NCAA with another relatively spectacular performance this year. Despite battling through a nagging hip injury that affected his lateral movement throughout the season (and required surgery this summer), Demko not only managed to play eleven more games than the year prior, he also did so while upping his save percentage to 0.925. Because he wasn’t physically able to play the position in a technical fashion at times, some of his saves got a little athletic to say the least.
Even still, the biggest reason for his performance as a result of improving his positioning. As he told Metro’s Cam Tucker in March, Demko spent last summer working on his physical strength, in order to push off towards being square with the puck with more emphasis and agility.
Demko’s best showcase of his talents came at the international level, when he represented the United States at the World Junior Hockey Championship. In four games with the stars and stripes, Demko posted a 0.934 save percentage, putting him near the top of the class. It’s not hard to argue that he was the best goaltender in the tournament other than Slovakian super-being Denis Godla.
“This will be the healthiest I have been. Ever,” said Demko. “I have just been looking forward to the day I can play pain free for about four years. I’m excited to get some gear on and see what that’s like.” –NHL.com
The key thing to remember about projecting Demko’s Canucks future is that this is going to require some significant patience. Goaltenders require a lot of hands-on development from their tutors and coaching staff, and need to be put in the right situations to succeed. To maximize his potential, the Canucks are best suited to have him play at Boston College for one more year, sign him to a contract before he enters his senior year (at which point it’s really easy for a top NCAA prospect to just hit free agency), and then make him the long-term starter of the Utica Comets until he’s absolutely ready to play in the NHL. If it takes three-to-four years, so be it.
With his gigantic frame (6’4, 195lbs), his athletic ability, and his open mind to growing as a player, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Thatcher Demko become the next, great starting goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks. Until someone else out-battles him for the spot and continues the Canucks’ seemingly never-ending game of musical crease, that is.