The sun is out, the weather is warm, and the hockey news in Vancouver has dried up after a furious end to July. So, while Canuck fans eagerly await the arrival of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and other notable prospects in the Vancouver system I started to ponder. With this current group of future prospects and current young players, can the Canucks build a contender from within. Going through the system, I came to the realization it’s entirely possible. I’ve come up with a roster of young players that the Canucks could see in their lineup by 2022-2023 (When the Beagle and Roussel contracts expire). For this exercise, we will only be using players already in the Canucks system, and we won’t be contemplating any new young players the Canucks could potentially draft (Sorry Jack Hughes). Finally, we’re going to use the Sporting News prospect ranking the most, as CanucksArmy haven’t released their pre season prospect list quite yet. Kicking this series off, we’re going to start from the blue paint and take a look at our future goalie tandem.
The starting netminder for the Canucks if all goes well would be none other than Thatcher Demko. Demko is listed by Sporting News as the Canucks 3rd best prospect, behind only Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. As it stands, Demko is on the cusp of being in the NHL season as a backup goaltender to incumbent starter Jacob Markstrom. His numbers in the AHL have led fans to believe that he’s going to be an elite starting goalie, and those are down below.
(Demko’s numbers, beginning with his draft season at Boston College. Stats acquired through eliteprospects.com)
As we begin with his draft year, the stats show his save percentage (SV%) increased every year he was in college, while his goals against average (GAA) decreased, showing solid signs of progression. Demko is also a student of the game, and after having a bit of a rough go in Utica once he signed, he turned it up again and followed his own trend by increasing his SV% and lowering his GAA. In addition to his amazing end to his collegiate career, Demko was named as the 3rd string goaltender for the USA in the 2016 World Championships behind New Jersey goaltender Keith Kinkaid and Canadiens netminder Mike Condon. Finally, Demko got his first start in the NHL this past year, and despite the .867 SV% was quite solid and showed off some of his high end skill with a couple gorgeous stops. What about his maturity? Well this quote from Demko really stands out.
“I am going to go back, watch film and relish in all of these feelings while honing in on the things I can work on this summer to make sure I’m ready.”
This is after his win versus Columbus and being asked if he’ll take anything from the game. For him to make the team this season, he’ll have to outperform the current backup in Anders Nilsson. Knowing how mentally strong Demko is, he’ll take what he learned in his brief little cameo and push Nilsson to the brink.
The 2014 2nd round pick would be 27 turning 28 to begin the season and ideally will have had 3-4 years of being the starter and developing himself into an elite, vezina caliber goalie of the likes of Luongo and Schneider during the Canucks last cup run. Is he a certainty? Absolutely not, but no prospect is. It’s clear to media and fans alike that if Demko hits his ceiling that he’ll be a top of the line star on this Canucks team, with a quality backup to spell his name when a rest is needed. With Demko’s temperament, his natural ability, and the opportunity to snatch a job wide open; we’ll be seeing Demko man the crease full time in the not so distant future. Before we move to the backup tendy, here are some slick Demko highlights.
(Photo credit: NHL.com)
Your backup goalie of the future has a sky high ceiling in his own right, but Michael DiPietro slots in behind Demko on our 2022-2023 roster. DiPietro ranks 7th on the Sporting News Canucks prospect list, only 4 spots behind Mr. Demko. Right now, DiPietro will be returning for another year of junior hockey with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires for his 4th and final season in the CHL. Michael is another extremely athletic goaltender, but quite raw. He’ll need to hone himself to fully reach his ceiling. DiPietro’s numbers are down below.
(DiPietro’s stats, edited to start from his 1st year in the OHL, credit to eliteprospects.com)
Now, our 2017 3rd round pick hasn’t had quite the dominant resume that our starting goaltender has submitted, but thinking DiPietro doesn’t have high end potential would be quite the disservice to the Windsor native. To start, DiPietro increased his games played, SV% and decreased his GAA from 2015-16 to 2016-2017. That 2016-2017 season was captivated with DiPietro winning the Memorial Cup with the Spitfires! His numbers took a slight dip in his D+1 season, with Windsor trading away a fair share of their veteran players and forcing Michael into a less than ideal scenario. This didn’t seem to phase DiPietro quite as much as one would think, as he led the OHL with 7 shutouts and was named OHL Goaltender of the year. Before he found out about his OHL award, Michael was given the same opportunity that Demko was, and was named the 3rd string goaltender for Canada at this year’s World Championships behind Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney and Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Looking ahead, DiPietro would be 23 for the full 2022-2023 season, and ideally will have played in the AHL for 3 seasons, dominating for 2 and then be called up to a backup role. In addition, he’d likely now be entering either his first full season as the backup to Demko. For Canucks fans, this season wouldn’t be the start of new goalie controversy, but might be the time the Canucks management team starts fielding offers for DiPietro or Demko if they see fit. I don’t believe that DiPietro will remain in a backup role, but will be perfectly suited there for his development.
All in all, there is a lot to like for the future of Canucks goaltending. Demko has shown flashes of being an elite goaltender, and I’ll go on record of saying that he’ll hit his ceiling. DiPietro would be getting starts in relief to help him adjust and grow his game in the NHL, hopefully pushing for a starting job in Vancouver, and forcing Vancouver to make a tough (Hopefully not as botched) decision in regards to who they move forward with through the late 2020’s. Now, it’s not the worst thing in the world if the Canucks feel they have to trade Demko or DiPietro, as Vancouver has another goalie prospect in Matthew Thiessen in the wings who won’t be too far off from stepping into the show. The certainty of the Canucks goaltending situation is an enviable one, and has set the Canucks up in goal for the foreseeable future.