In this Back To/The Future series, Chris Faber and Stephan Roget are making a collaborative effort to learn from the mistakes of the Vancouver Canucks’ recent past and offer solutions to salvage their immediate future — you know, just like Marty McFly did that one time. Each weekly Roget Reverse/Future Faber two-parter will start out with a critical look at some component of the Canucks’ game that went wrong in 2021, and finish by making some suggestions as to how it could get better in 2021/22. Whether you like to grumble about bad things that have already happened or dream about the good things yet to come, CanucksArmy has got what you need.
As Stephan Roget asked at the end of the “Back To” portion of this week’s instalment: Are there better days to come for DiPietro and the goaltenders of the Vancouver Canucks?
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There absolutely is, and a big reason for that is that the situation for the prospects not yet in the NHL really can’t be worse.
It’s been an incredible six weeks for the Canucks’ goaltenders and their surrounding situation.
At the beginning of May, the Canucks announced that they are relocating their AHL affiliate to Abbotsford. This is a slam dunk for the goaltenders as they will now be a 50-minute drive from the big squad’s headquarters instead of being 4,000+ kilometres away.
When the news was announced, the first thing I thought about was how amazing this is for both DiPietro and Arturs Silovs.
Then, just a week and a half ago, the Canucks announced a contract extension for their goalie guru, Ian Clark.
Our own David Quadrelli later confirmed that it was a five-year extension for Clark and the first thing that I thought about was DiPietro and Thatcher Demko — the future of the Canucks’ crease.
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Demko is on an excellent track to become one of the league’s elite goaltenders. He has built an amazing relationship with Clark and through the past year, we have learned that DiPietro shares similar feelings about the organization’s goalie whisperer.
“Being able to work with him every day was amazing, there’s no other way to put it,” said DiPietro. “I got to work with a really good goalie coach, the best in the world.”
After DiPietro’s stellar rookie season back in 2019-20, there was optimism throughout the organization and that showed with Comets goaltending coach and right-hand man to Clark, Curtis Sanford.
“What Mike was able to do last year to transition from the OHL into a strong training camp, and then parlay that into a strong start to the AHL season which carried through until we were told to stop playing last year, it was really impressive,” Sanford told CanucksArmy.
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We saw Demko put up similar numbers in the AHL in his rookie season and with his growth through his work with Clark, a lot of those in the know about goaltenders believe that DiPietro can have a similar path in development with some time alongside Clark.
It’s not likely that DiPietro wins the backup job out of training camp, as he only played in four games last season. It was a confusing end to the year as the Utica Comets had 10 games remaining when DiPietro was cleared to play, but he patrolled the crease in less than half of the remaining 10 games. They had the split squad team with the St. Louis Blues top goalie prospect in Utica but it still didn’t make sense that DiPietro didn’t at least get six of the final 10 games.
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In his four games, DiPietro looked like a different goalie. There were parts about his stance and movement that looked like a completely different goalie than what we saw during his rookie AHL season. He was locked in for two of the games as his first game saw him save 20 of 21 shots in his 2021 AHL season debut and his final game was even more impressive when he made 33 saves on 34 shots.
So, let’s look ahead now.
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DiPietro is poised to be a top goaltender prospect in the AHL this coming season. If he continues to develop, there’s no reason why he can’t be one of the best goalies in the AHL. If he achieves that, with him now playing just down the road in Abbotsford, the calls for a DiPietro call-up will flood social media. There is going to be extra coverage of the AHL team. Reporters like Ben Birnell and Cory Hergott have done amazing work taking us behind the scenes in Utica but we are about to be in a completely new ball game with the AHL team being in Abby.
When you look at this Abbotsford AHL team, DiPietro is likely to be the biggest star and frankly, it’s not even close. DiPietro is excellent with the media, the fans and of course, on the ice. He’s an easy guy to like and when he’s posting a 0.916% save percentage in the AHL, the hype will match the performance.
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The big question will be when the right time to call up DiPietro is.
That’s a tough one.
After missing a season of play last year, the question has been asked if he took a step back in his development. It’s not necessarily a step back but instead, a lane change. He worked with Ian Clark every day on so many little parts of the position and still has not been able to test his adjustments in consistent game-action. If DiPietro is able to establish himself as one of the top three goalies in the AHL and Braden Holtby continues his regression, it makes a lot of sense for DiPietro to get to the NHL as soon as February or March of 2022.
In that case, Holtby will be either traded or sent down to the Abbotsford AHL team.
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Can we get a damn name for Abby already?
If Holtby is sent down to Abbotsford while DiPietro is simultaneously called up, it signals the future is now for the goaltending group.
This is likely a decision for Ian Clark to make as much as it is Jim Benning. Clark is already very high on DiPietro and even told Sekeres and Price in an interview that he expects DiPietro to come into training camp and try to win a job out of camp.
The other situation where DiPietro is called up is if an injury occurs to one of Holtby or Demko. A year ago, that would have been a little bit rushed but it feels like this season, he will be ready if called upon. He’s coming off another experience with Hockey Canada at the World Championships and looked like he improved his quick movements in his four game AHL stint.
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It’s all going to depend on how DiPietro looks in the AHL this season.
He has the potential to be one of the best goalie prospects in the league and if he can seize that opportunity in Abbotsford, he will play NHL games this season one way or another.
If he struggles, this past year of only getting four games of action will be looked at as a huge mistake by the organization.
DiPietro is one of the hardest workers in the organization and for that reason, I think he’s going to really impress next season in the AHL. All that time with Clark isn’t going to go to waste and though it’s taken a while, this fall, he will get a chance to showcase his abilities. He’s going to be the biggest star on the Abbotsford team and he will be a big reason for a lot of wins. The stock has been pretty stagnant on DiPietro this past season but we are about to see a bull market once he begins leading the Abbotsford AHL team to some big wins.
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Where are you at on DiPietro and do you think this last year has hurt his development, slowed it, or even helped it because of all the time with Ian Clark?