Gentler Jacob Markstrom ready to take next step in Canucks’ crease

The Los Angeles Kings blew a 2-0 lead but would eventually make up for it in a shootout as they defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in the second pre-season game in China between the two clubs.

VANCOUVER — It’s not hard to get a read on Jacob Markstrom when things aren’t going well.

The goalie for the Vancouver Canucks will sometimes bristle at questions from the media he doesn’t like after a poor outing, firing back brief answers with a piercing glare that leaves little doubt as to what’s on his mind.

Set to become the No. 1 netminder in a market with a long history of controversies at the position, and on a rebuilding team expected to again struggle in 2017-18, the Swede is also aware of his past shortcomings off the ice.

"’If you don’t like a question, it shows,"’ Markstrom recounted a member of the Canucks’ public relations staff telling him when he spoke to reporters at the start of training camp.

"I got a couple pointers when dealing with the media that maybe I should be a little nicer."

The comment elicited laughter from everyone in the room, including Markstrom, and showed a level of comfort rarely seen from the 27-year-old since he arrived in Vancouver from the Florida Panthers as part of the Roberto Luongo trade in 2014.

"You’ve got to enjoy it," he said of dealing with the media. "It’s part of the game."

Markstrom played behind veteran Ryan Miller the last two seasons with the Canucks, starting 23 times in 2016-17 before a frustrating knee injury suffered in late February, during the team’s skills competition of all places, sidelined him for the rest of the year.

With the club slipping further and further out of the playoff picture on the way to a woeful 29th-place finish, it could have been a chance for Markstrom to get some important minutes.

He was instead forced to rehab the injury before settling on surgery.

"I can’t dwell on the past," said Markstrom, whose three-year contract extension with a US$3.67-million cap hit through the 2019-20 season is set to kick in. "If I start thinking about the past, that will just get me frustrated.

"I’m just trying to look forward."

Markstrom has a "huge opportunity," as he puts it, in the Canucks’ crease after Miller signed with the Anaheim Ducks.

Vancouver inked Anders Nilsson, another Swede, in free agency to a two-year deal worth US$2.5 million annually, but it’s clear that Markstrom is the No. 1 option heading into the season under rookie head coach Travis Green.

The six-foot-six, 196-pound Markstrom already has a history with Green from their time with the AHL’s Utica Comets in 2014-15 as part of the team’s run to the Calder Cup final.

"Very competitive," Green said of Markstrom. "Loves to compete, loves to win.

"When you have a player you can say loves to compete and loves to win, those are two pretty good words."

Markstrom had a 10-11-3 record with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 26 appearances for the Canucks in 2016-17.

In parts of eight NHL seasons with Florida and Vancouver, the Gavle native is 36-53-12 in 109 games, including 96 starts, with a 2.91 GAA and a .906 save percentage.

"I feel like I’ve been getting better and better pretty much every day and every week and every game I played," said Markstrom, who has yet to record an NHL shutout. "The previous years I wanted to play more games than I did.

"That’s what inspires me to work even harder (and) try to get as good as possible."

Markstrom is keenly aware that goalies in Vancouver have a history of being under an intense microscope — see Luongo, Cory Schneider and Eddie Lack most recently –with a sometimes-fever-pitch chatter among fans and media about who should play and how much.

"It’s a lot of pressure," he said, "like it should be at this level."

Markstrom and Nilsson, who are the same age and have known each other since they were teenagers, represented Sweden together at the 2010 world junior hockey championship.

Like Markstrom, the six-foot-six, 229-pound Nilsson is a mountain of a man, and offers the Canucks a capable backup with highly touted prospect Thatcher Demko still in need of some seasoning in the minors.

"I’m super excited to work with him," Markstrom said of Nilsson, who played for the Buffalo Sabres last year. "It’s about winning hockey games. We’re going to need everybody to contribute."

But if Vancouver is going to begin the slow climb back up the standings after finishing near the bottom the last two seasons while struggling mightily to score goals, Markstrom will have a big part to play.

"He’s up for the challenge," said Green. "He knows that he has to go out and play well. Marky knows that nothing’s given to him.

"He’s also a strong believer that nothing should be given."

Expect maybe some nicer answers to media questions after games.

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