Expectations and goals for every goaltender on the Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart
Photo credit:Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
Welcome to our series here at CanucksArmy where we will go over every single player on the Vancouver Canucks’ depth chart and break down reasonable expectations and goals for their 2023-24 season. Today, we’re starting with the goaltenders.
It’s often said that the goaltender is the most important player on the ice, and that’s been especially true for the Vancouver Canucks in recent years.
Their oftentimes porous defence at 5-on-5 hands out high-danger scoring chances to the opposition like they’re candy, and the penalty kill has been downright abysmal at limiting prime scoring opportunities in recent seasons.
And while the Canucks took strides this offseason to address those two areas of concern by adding three proficient penalty killers in Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, and Teddy Blueger, they’ll still need their goaltending to be sharp.
And there’s reason to believe that will be the case.
Thatcher Demko: NHL starter
There’s zero doubt that Thatcher Demko will be the Canucks’ starting goaltender on opening night, and for good reason. He’s taken massive strides in recent seasons, and despite starting last year a bit shaky before going down with an injury, he returned before the end of the season and looked like his old dominant self.
The expectation for Demko next year is to give the Canucks above-average goaltending. Hopefully the defensive reinforcements the Canucks have added in front of him, along with the structure Rick Tocchet and his staff hope to implement move the needle in a positive way for Demko.
As for goals for the season, Demko, like the rest of his team, needs to be ready to go right from game one. The Canucks can’t afford to go through yet another slow start, and Demko will be a key part of making sure that doesn’t happen this season. Beyond that, it would be nice for Demko personally if he got some more love in the voting for the Vezina Trophy, but he’ll need to earn those votes with a strong season in which the Canucks finally make their return to the playoffs.
Spencer Martin: NHL backup
With one year remaining on his one-way deal, Spencer Martin is going to want to prove once again that he’s capable of being Thatcher Demko’s backup.
He first proved that to the Canucks through six games at the NHL level in the 2021-22 season in which Martin posted an eye-popping .950 save percentage. Unfortunately, 2022-23 wasn’t as kind to Martin.
Through 29 games, Martin finished his season with an .871 save percentage. His game especially fell of at arguably the worst possible time: when he and Collin Delia were thrust into the starter’s role after Demko’s injury at the beginning of December.
After already being behind the 8-ball out of the gate, this stretch December onward truly was the beginning of the end of the Canucks’ season. Obviously it wasn’t all on Martin and Delia, but there were plenty of fans ready to give up on Martin after this stretch that concluded with the 28-year-old goaltender finishing his season in the AHL.
The expectation for Martin is that he gives the Canucks 20+ solid starts in spot duty for Thatcher Demko. Martin’s goal should be to block out the noise and prove his doubters wrong with undeniably strong play on the ice once again this season.
Arturs Silovs: Wild card
Will he be the AHL starter? Probably. Could he serve as the NHL backup at times if Martin can’t find his footing? Likely! Will he start games over Martin if Demko were to go down with another injury? We certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
Last season was huge for young Latvian netminder Arturs Silovs. He improved as the season went on and was rewarded with five starts at the NHL level down the final stretch of the season. In each of those starts, Silovs seemed to become more and more comfortable with the level of competition before eventually returning to the Abbotsford Canucks for the conclusion of the AHL season and the Calder Cup Playoffs.
In a recent radio appearance, Rick Tocchet said the backup job will come down to either Silovs or Martin, which is why Silovs is listed as a wild card. From a development standpoint, it’s likely best for Silovs to play a ton of games down at the AHL level. The best-case scenario is that Martin is serviceable enough that the Canucks don’t feel the need to make a change at the backup goalie position.
As outlined last week though, Silovs will not need to pass through waivers, and the Canucks are well within their rights to call Silovs up for spot duty for any back-to-back home games.
Zach Sawchenko: Depth
The definition of a depth signing, the Canucks agreed to terms with Zach Sawchenko on a one-year two-way contract the day that NHL free agency opened.
Sawchenko joins the Canucks organization following a three-year stint with the San Jose Sharks organization, mostly spent with their ECHL affiliate and a one-year stint with the Carolina Hurricanes organization as the leading starter for their AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves.
The reasonable expectation for Sawchenko is to provide the Canucks with overall depth in their goaltending department. The goal, however, is undoubtedly for Ian Clark and Marko Torenius to turn him into the next Spencer Martin — a goalie who comes to the Canucks after a few years of bouncing around between the AHL and ECHL before reinventing his game under the guidance of the Canucks’ goaltending coaches and earns himself an NHL contract.
Nikita Tolopilo: AHL or ECHL?
Nikita Tolopilo’s signing went a bit under the radar, but it’s one that the Canucks are ecstatic about. Goaltending coach Ian Clark called Tolopilo’s progression over in the Allsvenskan league — Sweden’s second tier men’s league — “huge“, and he’s right.
The 23-year-old’s save percentage skyrocketed from an .898 in 2021-22 to a league-leading .924 this past season. After watching him at development camp, it’s clear why the Canucks like him. He’s big, athletic, and has all the raw tools to be somebody that the Canucks believe they can morph into the complete package.
The expectation for Tolopilo is to come over to North America and learn the style of game while slowly but surely implementing a new system into his game. With the Canucks agreeing on a deal for the Kalamazoo Wings to serve as their ECHL affiliate, the club can feel comfortable that Tolopilo will get plenty of starts if that’s the route they choose to go.
The goal for Tolopilo this season is to force himself into the conversation to be the AHL starter by 2024-25 when Arturs Silovs presumably moves up to the NHL level full-time. That would make Tolopilo the definition of found money for the Canucks, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t accomplish that with a great first season in North America.
Aku Koskenvuo: Just play and develop
It was a disappointing first year with Harvard, as Aku Koskenvuo, the Canucks’ 5th round pick in 2021, struggled to pick up starts. With Mitchell Gibson graduating, Koskenvuo will certainly pick up more than the two starts he did last season. He also should have the inside track to starting the majority of Harvard’s games next season.
Harvard’s other goaltenders are Max Miller and Derek Mullahy. Miller should be behind Koskenvuo on the depth chart, but Mullahy outplayed him last year and is entering his senior year so that will be who we’d expect he’ll be fighting with for playing time.
At the very least, we’d expect Koskenvuo and Mullahy to split starts to begin the new season. At 20, Koskenvuo just needs to develop, and to do that, he needs to play. Koskenvuo’s goal should be to not only emerge as Harvard’s bonafide starter, but put up numbers that put him in the conversation as one of the NCAA’s top goaltenders.
Ty Young: Keep on developing
Ty Young took a step in his development this past season with the Prince George Cougars. His numbers haven’t been sexy the past two seasons behind a weak Cougars team, but this past season, Young essentially split starts with Tyler Brennan, who the New Jersey Devils selected in the fourth round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. In the playoffs, Young appeared in eight games for the Cougars while Brennan played in three.
Young was one of the youngest players in his draft class and still won’t turn 19 until September. He’s already had two Canucks development camps under his belt, so the name of the game will be for Young to continue to grow his game. He is, after all, still very young.
*Note: Matthew Thiessen was not included on this list as the Canucks will lose his NHL signing rights next season. Considering they just handed out a contract to Tolopilo, who is the same age as Thiessen, we’d be flat out surprised if the Canucks sign Thiessen prior to the August 15, 2024 signing deadline.
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