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Photo Credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

CanucksArmy ‘Midterm’ Prospect Profiles #2: Thatcher Demko

Numbers

Canucks fans have been antsy as they await Thatcher Demko for a few seasons now, hoping he’ll show up just in time to backstop the team through their revival as they enter the post-Sedin era.

This past season, they finally got to see him in action, as he made his NHL debut to wind down the team’s hard-to-watch season.

HIs debut itself was nothing to write home about, with a .867 save percentage and four goals on 30 shots against.

His numbers at the AHL level, though, were a tremendous step in the right direction; reassuring, as he worked his way through the fatigue of a game-heavy season much better than he did last year.

Through 46 regular season games, Demko put up a .922 save percentage in all situations, bookending the year with strong stretches to compensate for a slight lull right around February and early March.

During his rookie season last year, data tracked by Giants in the Crease showed that it took Demko five games to record both his first win and his first quality start of the year, bouncing back and forth with vet Richard Bachman as they traded off games until he got his feet wet.

Once he’d recorded a 29-save win against Lehigh Valley on November 11th, the Comets gave the first-year pro the net until he started to struggle, adopting a game plan where Demko played as a consensus starter when he thrived and tandemed with Bachman when he started to slip.

During his second season, the pair split things a little bit more evenly, treating the season like a true 1A/1B situation.

In a departure from the slow start seen in his rookie campaign, Demko hit the ice at full speed to kick off the 2017-18 season. It took him six games to fall below a quality start, and it took him eight games to fall below a .900. Excluding a small slump in mid-November, he’d continue posting those strong, effective numbers through mixed results for Utica well into the year. He’d post 14 quality starts in 15 straight appearances from November 25th to January 27th, only falling below a .900 once in the process – and although he hit a significant skid right around his 30-game mark, he finished off the year strongly enough and did his best to keep Utica in the playoffs once the postseason hit.

Scouting Report

At 6-foot-4, he’s had NHL size for years, but the slow approach to his game has been plenty necessary given his style of play.

His own goaltending coach compared him to Andrei Vasilevskiy and Pekka Rinne this year, which is both positive and nerve-wracking for Canucks fans. He’s got strong footwork and speed, great instincts, and has worked relentlessly on tightening up his technical game, but he still lacks that positional tranquility that you get from some of the league’s quiet-but-good pieces.

Since going pro, we’ve seen Demko spend more time trying to play a tighter butterfly, centering himself to pucks rather than utilizing his Jonathan Quick-esque lower body flexibility to get a piece of the shot with the toe of his pad.

Still, you can’t fully take the stretch pad save out of the California goalie:

One of Demko’s biggest assets is his own confidence in himself; he believes he’ll be ready for the NHL whenever they send him up (and in his eyes, that’s hopefully sooner rather than later), and having that comfort level with his own game given that style of play is key.

That being said, he’s not the kind of talent that should be rushed. The Canucks are in a poor position with their AHL affiliate so far away (particularly given that every other Pacific Division club has theirs in arm’s reach), but the team may still give him multiple stints in both Vancouver and Utica if he hits any bumpy patches no matter what.

  • Every time I see the name Demko, I think AC Delco, or Die Hard batteries from Sears. Don’t know why I do that.

    His development is right on track. Thatcher is proving his worth and management is doing the right thing with him. I see him as backup in Van this year, starter next year, and playoffs in 2020.
    Great story all around.

  • Gino über alles

    In one of the most difficult to fill positions it sure looks like the Canucks have a keeper and a number one goaltender in Demko. It does me no favours to see him rushed in simply because he played better than Nilsson in training camp when he may be better served to play in Utica (yes, again) and excel with a strong team. Thankfully the Canucks won’t rush him in to keep the fans happy, we’re still a couple years away but a piece like Demko means that we’re making strides in the right direction.

    Could you imagine if the Canucks were brave enough to put all their top prospects in the AHL for a year to learn the pro game and bond together? It would be an absolute powerhouse of a team and might be significantly better for their development than struggling to keep up with a struggling team in a much tougher league.

    • truthseeker

      Seems to me that’s just babying a prospect. Something too many NHL teams do these days. I’m not saying he should or shouldn’t make it, but if he clearly out plays Nilsson in camp then to me it’s an obvious choice to bring him in. Not sure why you would think the other way. It’s really strange. If a guy is ready he’s ready. Can you imagine if they told Patrick Roy…”yeah you’re better than our backup but still…go back to the AHL.” Imagine what that might do to Demko’s confidence. Knowing he’s better than an NHL back up but still isn’t allowed to play.

      People were saying the same thing about Boeser prior to this season. “he needs a year in the AHL”…..total nonsense. Play the best players. Simple as that.

      • Gino über alles

        Depends entirely on the prospect, look how good it worked for Edmonton when they drafted kids out of junior that were good enough to make the team but really should not have. The Canucks could load up Utica with a lot of high end emerging talent that is certain to form a good portion of their core in the years to come, they could develop really well by excelling at that level before graduating to the NHL.

        But suppose you’re right….sure he outplays Nilsson but is then a 23 year old rookie that is put in front of one of the worst defenses in the entire league with no offensive support. Literally the only highlight of his season would be that he beat a journeyman goaltender for a back up position on what could be the worst team in the league.

        What could possibly go wrong?

        • truthseeker

          Yeah…a 23 year old rookie. That’s old. Again, if the play warrants a demotion then fine. But if he’s got the ability he should be learning the NHL now. It wouldn’t be an oiler situation because, like Boeser, he will have showed he can play. So he loses. Get used to it. If he’s that fragile that he can’t handle a losing season in the NHL then I doubt he’ll ever have the mental fortitude to be a top player. In which case we should probably find that out sooner rather than later.

          It’s exactly right. He’s 23. It’s way past time he should be in the NHL.

          • Gino über alles

            You’d be right if we were talking about a forward, but goalies take longer, Schneider was 27 when he broke in. There’s a reason why there aren’t any 23 goalies in the NHL right now.

          • truthseeker

            That’s because NHL teams baby them. It’s stupid. Plenty of Corey’s career was wasted waiting in line. He should have been a starter years before. Part of that was the canucks being spoiled with a great goalie and having contract control over Schneider. He was a starter even when he was a backup.

            Saying thing’s like “goalies take longer” is just generalizing nonsense. You judge the individual on his ability. You don’t say “this position requires longer even if the player is awesome”. That’s just ridiculous.

            Sorry. But I completely disagree with your position and think it makes no logical sense at all. If he’s ready he’s ready. He should play. I think it’s absolutely the most nonsensical thing I’ve ever heard to suggest otherwise.

            The only exception to that I can think of is if there is some kind of situation where you’d lose an asset of value if you promoted said young player. Even then, you clear out the worse player asap and bring up the better one. In this case that is not the situation. Nilsson is not that. He has virtually no value.

          • Canuck4Life20

            There’s a reason why there aren’t any 23 goalies in the NHL…

            Vasilevski is 23 and has been all season. He played 16 games at 20. Hellebuyk played 26 games at the age of 22. Bobrovsky played 54 games at 22. Saros played 21 games as a 21 year old for Nashville and 26 games this season at 22. Holtby played 14 games at 21 for Washington. Quick played 44 games at 22. Fleury was in there 21 times at 19. Martin Jones broke in at 23 and played 19 games. Rask played 45 games at 22. Dubnyk let in 64 goals in 19 games for the Oilers for an impressive .889 save percentage as a 23 year old. Even Schneider played 8 games at 22 and 2 more at 23 for a pretty good team. And lets not forget Murray who was playing and winning in the Cup Finals at 21 and only 19 months older than Demko and 3 seasons into his NHL career.

            So as long as you don’t count 3 out of 4 of the Conference Finals Starters, 2 of 3 Vezina nominees (I’m not counting Rinne but he actually played 2 games at 23), and 11 out of the top 15 goalies this past season in save percentage then you are correct when you say that there aren’t any 23 goalies in the NHL right now.

  • North Van Halen

    While I appreciate the write up, it seems to be ‘just the facts’, with little personal, or any opinion at all. Kinda felt like the author decided if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
    I thought goaltending was your expertise Cat, would like to know what you actually think about Demko or if you haven’t seen enough of him, how about a few words from Cory or…ah. Thanks for the write up though.

    • Kanucked

      I rarely complain about the write ups, but I found this confusing. Maybe it’s just me, but there were a number of subjective comments without explanation (i.e. “he’s not the kind of talent that should be rushed”). What does that mean?

    • Locust

      I have noticed a significant reduction in the snark since the head douchebagger is “taking a break”.
      Maybe without that, she doesn’t have much to say?

    • “He’s got strong footwork and speed, great instincts, and has worked relentlessly on tightening up his technical game, but he still lacks that positional tranquility that you get from some of the league’s quiet-but-good pieces.

      Since going pro, we’ve seen Demko spend more time trying to play a tighter butterfly, centering himself to pucks rather than utilizing his Jonathan Quick-esque lower body flexibility to get a piece of the shot with the toe of his pad.

      Still, you can’t fully take the stretch pad save out of the California goalie…”

      This is what I think of Demko. I think he spent too much time relying on his size and reach early on and has been tightening up in that area in the last few years of developmental work, but still falls back into old habits at times. If you have other questions you think I didn’t answer and you’d like to see answered, obviously happy to address them, but that is ‘what I actually think’ of him, I promise lol.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Demko has had 2 years of being a starter in Utica. If he’s not ready now, then when? 2 years? 5 years? Nilsson was useless last year, and if Demko can’t play in the NHL by now, then maybe he’s not the prospect people think he is. He needs to be on the opening day roster if this team is ever going to make any progress.

    • argoleas

      Nilsson is having a v. good world championship run. If he claims gold for Sweden, his stock will be at its peak (whatever that means for Nilsson after that season) and Canucks should trade him. Demko is rdy.

    • canuckfan

      Nilsson may have some trade value after World Championships for him trade him then pick up another back up through free agency to battle for the spot in Vancouver. Demko now just needs games in the NHL to adjust to the speed of the game in the big league AHL has helped him but time to study the game at a higher level. He could backup this upcoming season get used to the travel and learn what it takes to stay in the NHL. Nilsson just needs to move on and might hit a value peak after the Worlds and may never hit that level again.

  • speering major

    I like starting him in Utica

    I think the Canucks are going to get shelled this season and it’s really not a great plan to try and test a top prospect in front of a shooting gallery. The Canucks also have two goalies under contract. Assuming Demko continues to impress, I think it makes sense to try and ship a goalie out at the deadline and call up Demko to get some experience in low pressure games. Even call him up if there’s an extended injury. I just don’t think its a good idea to set him up to fail and then potentially send him back down. Calling him up by injury or at the end of the season prevents that.

    • Gino über alles

      Nicely done, I like that thinking and agree completely. Rushing prospects, especially goalies, is a remarkably poor thing to do; they seem really committed to building this team slowly and I have absolutely no problems with that.

  • wojohowitz

    You never know about goalies. Look back at the career of Devan Dubnyk. A first round draft pick then he cleared waivers as nobody wanted him and finally a long term big money contract. As Ken Dryden wrote in his book `The Game` the goalie`s real struggle is not his opponents but with himself. Or Pat Roy who started his career with a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe but in his last season had trouble stopping anything.

    Demko will get his chance but he might end up being a Troy Gamble or a Cory Schneider for somebody else while Michael Dipietro has the fifteen year HOF career after finally winning the Cup in Vancouver.

    • truthseeker

      I don’t think it’s any different than any other position. Some guys succeed and some don’t. Top draft picks fail and top draft picks excel. Some forwards blossom on other teams and some never do. You can say the same about all players. There are examples of every possibility at every position.

      • canuckfan

        Perhaps Edmonton would have won the cup by now if Dubnyk had been able to work things through or maybe Hall could have led the Oilers to a cup if they hadn’t given him away. Oilers will win more lottery drafts in the coming years because of where they will be in the standings.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    While the Comets are farther away from the Canucks, they are very close to their opponents, such that they can spend a small amount of time on the bus and a lot more time training and practising. So, I don’t think it’s such a bad situation for them, considering that team travel affects all the players all the time whereas distance from parent club only affects one or two players at a time, and only sporadically at that.