Checking in as the third best prospect in the organization, is goaltender Thatcher Demko.
After dominating the NCAA for three years, the young netminder made his way to the AHL this season. There has been a bit of a learning curve, which was expected, but there is still no doubting the San Diego natives talent.
I’ve always been extremely high on Demko. He has the drive, work ethic, smarts and talent to be an impact goalie for the Canucks for years to come. There is a reason why he has quickly ascended the prospect rankings and is firmly a top three prospect.
Before we dissect Demko further, let’s get the nitty-gritty details out of the way about the criteria for a qualifying prospect:
- The player must be 25 years or younger, and
- The player must be eligible for the Calder Trophy next season.
As a result, players that are considered to be “graduated” to the NHL (Brendan Gaunce, Nikita Tryamkin, Jake Virtanen, Anton Rodin) are not eligible.
Thatcher Demko is an exceptionally athletic goaltender that can seem unbeatable on many occasions. His composure in net and modified butterfly style have scouts comparing him to Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. He prepares himself well, positionally, for initial shots and the subsequent rebounds, and his cross-crease lateral movement is very good. As he tracks the puck, his stick always covers the five-hole and he makes himself big. One of the most noticeable aspects about Demko’s style is that he doesn’t go down prematurely; he isn’t overly aggressive, but will get out to the top of the blue paint to challenge shooters with a clear shooting lane. Moving forward, Thatcher Demko will have every opportunity to develop into an elite franchise-type goaltender that can be relied upon in all situations. – Elite Prospects
I’ve written about Demko on a few occasions, including the summer, when I conducted a lengthy interview with NHL.com goalie expert Kevin Woodley.
I would recommend checking that out if you haven’t already done so, as Woodley grants expert insight into Demko.
I also spoke to Demko at Young Stars in Penticton, about how he prepares for games and analyzes shooters and plays. I didn’t include the entirety of our conversation in that post, but I walked away from the interaction with a sense that Demko already gets how to be a professional. He recounted specific events and players from two years ago with great detail.
Linking both of those pieces are an excellent way to see how Demko is off the ice, and he is a student of the game.
On the ice, Demko struggled to start the season, as he adjusted to the AHL:
One of the areas of concern was his glove hand; he was regularly getting beat of shots on that side. But he quickly adapted how he held his hand, and then it went up from there. His partner Richard Bachman went down with an injury in early November, and Demko went on a tear:
In his last eight starts –
Thatcher Demko is 7-1-0 with a 1.86 GAA and 0.936 SV%#Canucks
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) December 8, 2016
Those are exceptional numbers when being relied upon as the number one goalie. His performance has seen something of a dip since, as Bachman returned, relegating Demko to a backup role. Demko has also battled illness over the last few weeks.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) December 15, 2016
Contrary to others suggestions that Demko should play more, I find this is exactly the environment he should be in. Between the ample practice time and how much of it is spent with Rollie Melanson, Demko’s in the ideal situation to learn how to be a professional goaltender.
Though the Canucks have Bachman signed for another season (primarily for the purposes of the expansion draft) I’d expect the two will split starts next season, with Demko taking the lion’s share. Bachman playing more next year isn’t vital to the long-term success of the organization. Demko needs to be playing night in and night out. Go through some tribulations and work through them. Obviously, if he falters then Bachman is there to spell him.
The Canucks will likely go the route of signing another goaltender to share the duties with Markstrom for 2017-18. Depending on who they target, they may need to do a two-year deal, granting Demko time to marinate in the AHL for the duration of his ELC. He would then be poised to jump up into the NHL, as a back-up for the last season of Markstrom’s new contract in 2019-20.
That’s an ideal development timeline for a goalie and should be the expectation. If Demko enjoys a sustained period of great play in Utica next season as the starting goalie, then maybe that changes the plans of the organization, but ultimately it will just mean that he is the call-up option for when an injury inevitably happens.
Like all prospects, patience is key. Rushing a goaltender can lead to disastrous results. The Canucks are ultimately not a position to have Demko suffer massive regression – he needs to develop and play in Utica with eyes of making the NHL in a full-time role (back-up) in 2019-20. If he gets there faster, all the better.