The only goalie to crack the Top 20 prospect list for the Canucks, Thatcher Demko, comes in ranked third in our consensus list.
After an extremely impressive NCAA career, the young netminder now turns his attention to Utica this fall, with hopes of translating his success at Boston College to the AHL. For Canucks fans who’ve been all too eager to catch a glimpse of their blue chip goaltender, that’s a step in the right direction.
Demko’s shown through his exceedingly strong development, tireless work ethic and intelligence that he’s worth the fuss.
With the added benefit of hindsight, it’s amazing the Canucks could snag Demko with the 36th overall selection. Of course, that belies the very real concerns that scouts and teams had about Demko’s hip, a factor which likely drove the American netminder from the first round entirely. You can’t blame other teams for being leery of the situation, but you can absolutely give credit to the Canucks for taking that bet.
There is a lot to cover, so let’s start with Demko’s past season.
In advance of the 2015-16 season, Demko opted to have go under the knife and have surgery to fix his ailing hip. It’s been suggested that the hip injury severely limited Demko’s ability to rotate and consequently operate in the butterfly and move laterally. This surgery prevented Demko from participating in the Canucks’ development camp, but that’s nothing to be upset over seeing as it afforded Demko the opportunity to properly heal his hip.
Back in April I spoke with InGoal Magazine Managing Editor and resident goaltending expert, Kevin Woodley, who covers the Canucks for NHL.com and he had this to say on Demko’s injury and the positive impact surgery had on his game thereafter.
Last year, we finally saw what he was capable of when fully healthy. You can’t be a one shot goalie in the NHL, you need to control that shot, recover and make second and third saves. What we’ve seen, is that now that he has the mobility back – he is able to get to second and third saves. Ideally he would do it in a more controlled manner, but when he needs to be there explosively on the follow up saves. Which wasn’t there prior to the injury, but he now has that ability to make those saves. That’s just a function of being healthy.He was a butterfly goalie who had zero rotation in his butterfly flair. Which hurt his coverage, but it also hurt his ability to move laterally. With his flair being wider, after the surgery, all those lateral movements were easier for him to make.It was remarkable what he was able to do with that injured hip, and now we are seeing what he can be now that it’s healthy.
And what Demko did this season – was extremely impressive.
Above is Demko’s save percentage during each month’s play (*only played one game in April)
Two separate three-game shutout streaks, single season shutout record for Boston College (10), NCAA career highs in GAA (1.88), SV% (0.935%), wins (27) and the Beanpot Tournament Championship. Boston College didn’t lose a game between October 11 and December 10th, and then again didn’t lose a game between January 29th and February 27th.
All of that led to Demko taking the NCAA Hockey East Association (Co-Player of the Year) and the NCAA Mike Richter award, which is given to the best goalie in the NCAA. Demko was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, though he was eventually bested for the award by Jimmy Vesey.
It’s worth noting that Demko missed Boston College’s January 8th and 9th contests due to a concussion suffered two weeks earlier.
He ended the season being invited by Team USA to the World Championships, and although he didn’t see any game action, it was a great learning experience.
All of this, at 20-years-old.
Since Demko has opted to sign an ELC with the Canucks and turn pro this fall, the question is where does he go from here?
As I mentioned above, there is reason to be excited. But that excitement needs to be met with the same level of patience. Kevin Woodley provided some further insight into that process in that same phone interview with me:
Important to note – it’s not a snap your fingers process translating from the NCAA to the AHL or even the ECHL. It’s a different kind of attack. It’s not like what he does in the NCAA is bad, it’s more about what he needs to do to succeed against those attacks. But the same style, the same approach, almost never translates straight to pro. There are adjustments that are needed – which are usually are depth management, positioning consistency, time and space, quick plays around the net and will need a little more structure for plays close to and around the net. So much more of the NHL attack is below the goal line or out of the corners.This is why there is so much talk about the VH or reverse VH – as much as people criticize those when they don’t work. You need to have them in your arsenal because so much of the attack comes from below the net or the corners, which then forces you to come off your posts quickly when moving with the puck movement.The tendencies from college to pro – you have to back off positionally a little bit. You can get away with being more aggressive and backwards flow in college hockey. Those are tougher at the pro level.These are all things that we saw Cory Schneider adjust, and took three years to do so. Same thing with Cam Talbot, three years pro. Some guys exceed that timeline but rushing them is usually a mistake.
Demko will go to the Comets this upcoming season and will be under the guidance of Rollie Melanson to work on those aspects of his game. If I had to hedge my bets, I would think that Demko will be able to adjust his style and exceed. Widely regarded as a student of the position, Demko is constantly trying to study more about goaltending. He admitted as such in a feature on NHL.com by Kevin Woodley:
“I study the game quite a bit,” Demko said. “I love watching NHL Network, and it’s just always been part of my nature to look at the highlights and see ‘he did this here, or he didn’t do that there,’ and pick things up as you go.”
As long as Demko can pick up the necessary techniques and consistencies to translate his game to the professional level, he will then be able to add parts to his game that will allow him to excel. Kevin Woodley shed some light on that:
One of the things that has the potential to be a separator for him – He likes to throw different looks at shooters. He doesn’t want to look the same all the time. There are times when that is going to be a real strength. With that being said, for other guys in the NHL that has been hard to balance that with consistent technique. At the NHL level, consistent technique really helps with being solid at the NHL level. He likes to throw different saves or movements at the same shooters in the same game to try and throw them off. Part of the challenge will be to manage all of those aspects of his game. Thatcher approaches the game in a non-cookie cutter way. He baits guys, uses different save selections. If he doesn’t struggle with the consistency side, those aspects have the potential to be a really good upside for him. There is a whole generation of shooters who are growing up with goalies who all look the same.
Unfortunately, at the moment, pGPS is unable to evaluate goalies. Which is due to the variations in their stats from year to year and because goalies can come out of nowhere from a variety of different leagues. If it was something that was available, I’m sure it would just re-affirm that Demko looks like a very good bet to be an NHL goalie.
I’ve always been extremely high on Demko, even ranking him as the second best prospect in the organization this summer. He just seems to have the complete package to make it, which includes the desire and mindset to always get better.
There will be some learning curve for him next season as he will be inundated with a variety of things he wasn’t dealing with in the NCAA. Schneider and many others went through this, so it’s safe to assume that Demko will too. But it’s also fair to believe, that over the course of the next year or two, Demko will slowly make the climb back into being elite at his current level – once that is done, he will look to make the step to the NHL.
Be excited, but be patient.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) August 25, 2016