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.
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.