Thatcher Demko, who the Vancouver Canucks selected with the 36th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, is the highest ranked goalie in the Canucks Army Pre-Season Prospect Profiles series.
After making the leap from the NCAA to the AHL last season, the young netminder suffered his share of hiccups, but that shouldn’t take away from how good Demko is. He has the work ethic, athleticism, self-reflection and hockey IQ to reach his potential as a number one goalie in the NHL.
With goalies, you have to be patient, and Demko is the prime example of that.
Demko checks in as the fourth ranked prospect in our consensus rankings.
We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).
Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now, and Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played.
If you’re a regular in this space, you should know by now that I’ve been a fan of Demko’s for a few years now and have high hopes for the San Diego, California native. After a fantastic collegiate career, Demko headed to the AHL to take that next step. Although he had some struggles to start the year, there were long stretches where Demko was downright dominant for the Comets.
Those long stretches of great play coincided with Bachman being recalled to the Canucks due to injuries to Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom. Demko was given the net and ran with it. If he had an off night, he was put back in the net for the next game. Those forced reps allowed Demko to get into a rhythm, get comfortable, and show flashes of what he may become in years to come.
I do recall seeing some concern over his numbers in the first parts of the season, but those numbers were influenced by a variety of factors including a lack of reps. Demko also appeared to be a little behind the play and tracking, particularly on his glove hand. As the year progressed, though, those concerns evaporated.
There is ample reason for optimism with Demko’s last season. He stumbled out of the gate, certainly, but that was expected when making the leap to professional hockey. He worked hard and refined his playing style under the watchful eye of Roland Melanson and improved over the course of the season. I’ve said it before, but what sets Demko apart from the pack is a willingness always to get better and his meticulous attention to detail. I spoke with him at Young Stars last season, asking about some of his ‘book-keeping’ on specific players. He recited back a specific example from the World Juniors in 2015, which was 20 months before that.
It’s clear that Demko needs to continue to play in the AHL, and play a lot. The expansion draft threw a wrench in the long term succession plan as the Canucks had to extend Bachman for another season to ensure they met the exposure requirements. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does complicate things as the Comets head coach Trent Cull will always have that veteran to take starts away from Demko.
Demko will need to improve his consistency to show that he can handle the elevated workload.
On the flip side, it gives Demko competition for the net, and that may motivate him. It’s a layered situation that will have to play over the course of the season, but looking at the long term needs of the organization, the Canucks would be best served to give Demko the upper hand in the matchup and force as many minutes as he can handle.
During the 2018-19 season, the Canucks will have Jacob Markstrom, and Anders Nilsson under contract with the Canucks and Bachmans’ deal will be done. It’s fair to assume that Demko will be the number one guy in Utica for the duration of that year. His entry level contract and his ability to be assigned to the AHL without waivers will both end at the conclusion of that 18-19 season.
Needless to say, that next year will be a fun one to watch in Utica next season, and Demko will be a huge part of that. The organization will get a big influx of young talent with higher ceilings. This will mean there will be some learning curves in the forward and defensive ranks.
All of this is just to reinforce that patience is needed with Demko. He made impressive strides over the course of the year and will look to build upon that this year. Ideally, he will get some NHL action this season (as injuries are inevitable) and get a read of where he needs to improve to take that next step.