It’s the dawn of a new era at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser have emerged as the city’s new starring pair. Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette are lurking around the corner, ready to make waves. Quinn Hughes seems poised to take over leadership of the blue line in the coming decade. If there’s one question mark for this up-and-coming Canucks squad, though, it’s what the future holds for the team’s goaltending corps.
Jacob Markstrom got the bulk of the starts last season, posting a .912 save percentage through 60 games. Anders Nilsson put up a less-inspiring .901 through 27 games as the No. 2 option. Now, the Canucks faithful have turned their attention to 22-year-old Thatcher Demko, the club’s second-round pick from 2014, who’s been impressing at the AHL level.
Sportsnet 650’s Corey Hirsch, who logged 101 games in the Canucks net himself in the late 90s, says it’s time to try out Demko in the big leagues — though expectations should be tempered.
“I’d like to see him start the year, but I’d have something in the wings,” Hirsch told Randip Janda and Mira Laurence on Sportsnet 650 Friday. “Because the minors is a lot different. When I played in the minors, you had a lot of 29-, 30-year-old players, so when a goalie came up [to the NHL], he was pretty much ready. Now, with the veteran rule, you’ve got a lot of young players in the minors, so the jump from the minors to the NHL is a lot bigger.
“Guys will dominate the minors and then they’ll come up to the NHL and it’s a whole different level, whereas years ago it wasn’t like that. So, just because he won some awards in the minors doesn’t make for immediate success in the National Hockey League, so I’d have a backup plan.”
Demko has certainly been finding success during his time in the AHL. He posted a strong .922 save percentage for Utica last season (the sixth-best mark in the league), upping that to .927 through a handful of post-season games.
But, regardless of that performance, Hirsch believes it’s the strength (or lack thereof) of the rest of Vancouver’s netminding corps that could hold Demko back.
“There’s still some question marks surrounding [Markstrom],” Hirsch said. “If it was Patrick Roy, yeah, it would be easy — you just bring in Demko, that’s it, he’s your backup. Because you have a solid No. 1. Well, the Canucks really don’t have a solid No. 1, and that actually hurts Demko because it puts question marks in all goaltenders’ eyes around the organization.
“But you have to give him a chance and an opportunity, I do agree with that. If he ends up in Utica, it’s not going to hurt him, but we have to see what he is and what he’s got.”
Listen to Corey Hirsch’s full interview on Sportsnet 650’s Reach Deep — embedded above — as he, Janda and Laurence weigh in on expectations for Brock Boeser and the factors affecting Quinn Hughes as he decides whether or not to go pro.