Canucks fans got their first look at the man many have dubbed the ‘goalie of the future’ on Saturday when Thatcher Demko played in his first NHL game.
But what about the ‘goalie of the now’, 28-year-old Jacob Markstrom?
With Ryan Miller off to Anaheim last summer, this season was set up with no starting goalie in particular.
There was Markstrom, who had never played more than 32 games in a season. There was also free-agent signing Anders Nilsson, who had never played more than 26 games in a year. With 82 games on the schedule, something had to give.
What ended up happening was new coach Travis Green ultimately deciding on Markstrom as his starter.
While Nilsson has yet to surpass his 26-game career high, Markstrom has shattered his with 58 games played this season.
That many appearances ranks him in the top 10 for goalies in playing time this season, so at least by usage, Markstrom has been a starting goalie this season.
The question is, has he performed like one?
Looking at the bare numbers, Markstrom’s .913 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average doesn’t look like anything special.
That save percentage ranks him 17th out of 30 goalies who have played at least 40 games this season, ranking him ahead of goalies like Matt Murray, Braden Holtby, Carey Price, and Craig Anderson.
Consider the kind of team Markstrom is playing behind, and it’s even more encouraging.
If you’ve watched the Canucks for even a handful of games the past few seasons, you know the defensive play is a work in progress, to put it lightly. The defence is awful on most nights, and the team’s most steadying presence defensively (Chris Tanev) has been limited to just 42 games this season.
On another team, with better defensive play, you would naturally assume Markstrom’s numbers would be better. That’s exactly what happened with Miller this season.
Last season, in a year where the general consensus was that Miller played well, his stat line (.914 SV% and 2.80 GAA in 54 games) looked very similar to Markstrom’s this year.
Now playing as a backup in Anaheim, Miller’s save percentage has risen significantly to .926 in 24 games.
Of course, one thing he will still need to work on to be a bonafide starter is allowing fewer weak goals.
Markstrom has had a reputation for letting in a softie here and there, and those kind of goals can really deflate a team. Regardless of what the numbers say, you need a starter you can rely on to always make the easy save.
However, in the second half this season those soft goals seem fewer and farther between, and the hope is that Markstrom can continue to work on eliminating those from his game.
If you take out Markstrom’s slow start, the numbers look even more encouraging.
Since January 1st, Markstrom’s .919 SV% in 30 games ranks him in the top 10 among starting goalies. Look at the names above him, and you’ll notice Markstrom is the highest-ranked goalie with more regulation losses than wins. That’s a testament to how well Markstrom has played on a poor team.
With such an increased workload, you would think Markstrom would’ve hit a wall at some point, but he’s only gotten better as the season has gone on.
Heading into Tuesday’s contest, Markstrom has won his last four starts in a row, posting a .962 SV% and a 1.25 GAA in those games.
In a Canucks season with not very many good storylines, Markstrom should be praised for his progress. With three games still to come, Markstrom has played almost double his career high in games this season, while maintaining league-average numbers on a team well below league average.
That’s a huge step for him, and while he won’t ever hit the potential he was drafted for by the Florida Panthers back in 2008, he still could carve out a career as a starting goalie.
Demko may be the goalie of the future, but until then, Markstrom should be just fine.