After a nightmare start to the season, Thatcher Demko is now living his dream.
Nearly five years after he was drafted by the Canucks in the second round, 36th overall, the player many have pegged as the team’s goaltender of the future has finally arrived in Vancouver.
If all goes according to plan, he’ll be here for good.
A lot of attention was on the 6-foot-4 goaltender at his first full practice since being recalled by the Canucks last week.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 7, 2019
With Anders Nilsson traded and Mike McKenna lost on waivers, Demko is the only viable option left in the organization to back up Jacob Markstrom. That means he has arrived as an NHL goalie, it’s now up to him to develop into a good one.
After an outstanding year with the Utica Comets in 2017-18, it hasn’t been easy for Demko this season.
The 23-year-old took a Brendan Leipsic shot to the head in a September 23 Canucks practice, suffering a concussion which put an end to his training camp. Demko spent the next two months on the sidelines.
“It was just a one-timer,” said Demko. “I felt it pretty much right away. It was a situation where I was more worried about my health than anything. It was something where I wanted to take my time with it.”
“I’ve been hit like that a ton of times. It was just one of the flukey things.”
Demko didn’t return to game action until November 21 with the Comets.
“I was getting a little frustrated,” Demko explained. “I wasn’t really able to pinpoint where the symptoms were coming from. I was able to do that eventually, and work on that stuff, and it ultimately got me to being healthy, and being able to play again.”
By all accounts Demko is ready to make the jump to the NHL. Poised to share the crease with Markstrom for the second half of the season, the Canucks are currently in the lightest part of their schedule, with just six games to play before February 2. That means plenty of practice time with the NHL club.
His workload remains a bit of a question mark. It’s clear that Demko needs to play, not just for his development, but to give Markstrom a rest.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it,” head coach Travis Green told reporters. “That’s the good thing right now, we’ve got a good part of our schedule now, where he gets a lot of work with [goaltending coach Ian Clark], and gets use to the NHL pace, and NHL shot. Today was good for him. Being around the net with a lot of puck battles, feeling the strength of guys. It’s a good time for him to be here.”
In 16 games with Utica this season, Demko has an 8-5-1 record with a 2.58 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. Last season, Demko finished with the second best save percentage (.922) among AHL goalies with 40+ games played, to go with a 25-13-7 record and a 2.44 GAA.
Demko has just one game of NHL experience, winning in his NHL debut on March 31 of last year. He made 30 saves that day in a 5-4 overtime win against Columbus. As astute as can be, Demko has analyzed every aspect of that game.
“That was a great experience for me,” said Demko. “Just to get a little glimpse of what it might be like up here. I was able to break down that film, watch that a bunch, dissect it over the summer, and work on some of the things that I was able to see in that film.”
It’s not easy playing the position of goaltender, particularly in Vancouver. The ‘goalie graveyard’ has claimed victims in the past and when you get the tag of ‘goalie of the future,’ the weight of expectations becomes heavy.
“I want to be as good as I can be. Obviously things can change and organizations have their paths that they want to take. A lot of that’s out of my control. I’m just taking it day by day, and seeing where it takes me.”