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Vancouver Canucks Goaltending Will Be A Future Problem

Goaltending has always been somewhat of a voodoo situation for the Vancouver Canucks. The arrival of Jacob Markstrom as a number one goaltender this season has been a pleasant surprise, but the team always has to be looking towards the future of this position. If he had been struggling, the lack of goaltending depth for Vancouver would be a bigger story. The arrival of Thatcher Demko as a top American Hockey League goalie and the play of Michael DiPietro in this past World Junior Championship have put a band-aid over the situation. The truth is, there isn’t much coming down the pipe.

What Do The Canucks Have in Net?

Vancouver had been rolling with the tandem of Markstrom and Anders Nilsson for the past few seasons with varying results. Both goalies were inconsistent at the best of times. Markstrom took over the net for good after having a strong November and December.  Nilsson struggled whenever he got playing time, which led him to be dealt to the Ottawa Senators. General manager Jim Benning needed to make room for 23-year-old Thatcher Demko and Nilsson was the casualty.

That trade unofficially set off the “Thatcher Demko Era” in Vancouver. The former second-round draft pick is the heir apparent to the throne. Many have him compared to Cory Schneider, another highly touted goaltender to come out of the college ranks. But what if he’s just another Jacob Markstrom? A guy who never really lives up to the hype? The fear is real in Vancouver, who have never really drafted and developed a star goaltender.

The Present

The 28-year-old Jacob Markstrom just played his 200th game in the NHL, playing more than 33 games in a season once. After this season, he has one more year remaining at $3,666,667. It’s likely that, barring injury, he will be playing around 60 games this season. His numbers were solid last season with a 0.912 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against-average. He will have to play better in the second half of the season to get back to those numbers.

The Canucks could trade Markstrom before next season’s trade deadline instead of re-signing him. With the Seattle expansion draft coming up in a few seasons, Markstrom would be exposed over Demko. It may be better for Vancouver to get something for him instead of losing him for free.

Of course, that depends on how Demko plays over the next year.

Over the past two seasons with the Utica Comets, Demko showed himself to be a capable professional goaltender. This season started off slowly for him, after suffering a concussion in training camp, but he has rebounded well. The Canucks brass thought he wasn’t getting anything out of being the top goaltender for a playoff-bound AHL team.

Demko will need playing time in the NHL to see what they’ve got, but then what? Will he be splitting time with Markstrom next season, or will he be the backup? He needs to be playing games to continue his development. The same problem hindered Markstrom in his early days. He wasn’t playing enough games early in his career, which could have stunted his growth as a future starter.

Can Thatcher Demko be a superstar goaltender in the NHL? Hopefully, it won’t take five years to figure that out.

The Farm

During the Vegas expansion draft, the Canucks signed Richard Bachman in order to meet their goaltender exposure limits. He’s still in Utica and was a quality mentor to Demko during their time together. Unfortunately, his season ended with an Achilles injury around the same time they made the Anders Nilsson trade, which originally put their depth in question. He still has one more season left on his deal and will be counted on to mentor the next stud goalie prospect, Michael DiPietro.

Holding the fort down during Bachman’s injury and Demko’s recall is Ilya Kulbakov. The 22-year-old hasn’t done terribly in net during this stint. Signed to an AHL deal, he originally was meant to play full-time with Kalamazoo of the ECHL. It’s unlikely that he has a future with the Canucks, but could be a serviceable depth piece for the next few seasons.

Alex Sakelleropoulos in the backup in Utica right now after signing a PTO recently. He has spent his whole season in the ECHL and will likely return there after his tryout is over.

The Future

Michael DiPietro cemented his junior career with a great performance at the 2019 World Junior Championships with Canada, regardless of their success at the tournament. After a great OHL career with the Windsor Spitfires (winning a Memorial Cup), he will finish the season with the Ottawa 67’s. It’s likely that he will join the Utica Comets next season, sharing the crease with Richard Bachman.

The knock against DiPietro is his size but he has succeeded at every level he has played in. A Demko-Dipietro tandem could be fairly excited in Vancouver down the line. Is it too early to compare them to Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider?

The last goaltender in the pipeline for the Canucks is Matthew Thiessen. Taken with their last pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he will be joining the University of Maine after the season is over. His numbers playing in the USHL have been nothing special but he is still a young goalie. It’s likely that Canucks’ fans won’t see him in a uniform, Comets or Canucks, for at least four more years, so he’s a ways away.

What the Canucks Need to Do

Trading for a goaltender this season wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Mike McKenna came over in the Anders Nilsson trade, but he was lost to waivers when they tried to bring him down to Utica. It’s likely that the Canucks could pick him up if the Philadelphia Flyers put him back on waivers. Vancouver could also try to pick up another veteran AHL goaltender in order to get Utica a deep playoff run.

Next season will be interesting. There is a good chance that they will use one of their sixth or seventh-round picks to grab another goaltender in the draft, but with Markstrom’s contract entering the last year and the expansion draft looming in 2021, every decision made will need to be calculated. The Canucks could go after an older UFA goaltender to mentor Demko and trade Markstrom this summer or go after a big-time fish like Sergei Bobrovsky. Not great for the rebuild though.

The Canucks goaltending depth is weak, but there are some promising prospects in the pipeline. Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro are two of the better goaltending prospects out there. The Demko era has arrived, but he will take a few seasons to see if he’s as special of a prospect as fans and Canuck brass think he is.

Vancouver is going to need them to pan out if they want any hope of contending for a Stanley Cup in the next decade.

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