Analyzing Thatcher Demko's season ahead of crucial stretch for Canucks

Feb 25 2020, 11:57 am

With news that Jacob Markstrom will miss a significant portion of time due to a knee injury, the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff hopes now hang on Thatcher Demko.

While the Canucks traded for Louis Domingue before the deadline, GM Jim Benning revealed that the plan is to lean heavily on Demko for a significant portion of the stretch drive.

After the Canucks selected Demko in 36th overall in the 2014 draft, the San Diego native has long been touted as the team’s goalie of the future. We’re finally about to see him in that role for about 3-4 weeks, according to one estimate.

Here are five things to note as the netminder enters the most important stretch of his professional career.

1. Why Demko is primed for success

Many successful athletes have to battle adversity and pressure, and it seems like Demko is better equipped than most to handle that.

He’s battled the injury adversity on multiple occasions in his career. In college, he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in both of his hips. Despite the setback, he managed to earn himself a Hobey Baker nomination following the surgery.

Demko has also suffered multiple concussions since joining the organization, but he’s still managed to piece together a solid first full season in the NHL.

Aside from all of that, Demko appears to have the mental maturity needed to be an NHL goaltender. He’s showcased that maturity by remaining calm on the ice, and from the way he carries himself in interviews.

“I think pressure is a made up thing,” Demko told Sportsnet in January of 2019. “Everyone loves to talk about it, but you can’t really put your finger on what it is. It’s really up to the subject to determine whether they feel pressure or not. I don’t feel pressure.”

2. Don’t expect him to be Jacob Markstrom

There’s no doubt that Demko has the talent and pedigree to step in and do an admirable job at the NHL level. That’s a fair expectation.

What isn’t a fair expectation is to expect him to be as brilliant as Markstrom.

We previously analyzed why Markstrom should be in the running for the Vezina Trophy this season, and there are many numbers that point towards his brilliance.

Only Robin Lehner has made more saves than Markstrom at even-strength per-60 minutes so far this season. Despite the monumental shot volume, Markstrom has managed to not only hold his own, but steal wins for the team.

Demko did steal this team one win outright when he stopped 36 of 37 shots against the St. Louis Blues. However, asking him to steal games at Markstrom’s rate is an unreasonable ask.

3. He’s been making saves he needs to make

To get a better idea of how Demko has been performing, we can look at how save percentage is broken down into three different categories: high danger, medium danger, and low danger.

Among 63 netminders to play more than 500 even-strength minutes this season, here’s where Markstrom and Demko rank in each category:

HDSV% MDSV% LDSV%
Markstrom 0.836 (21st) 0.925 (21st) 0.969 (38th)
Demko 0.78 (59th) 0.936 (13th) 0.983 (8th)

This highlights one of the main differences between Markstrom and Demko this season. Markstrom has been making an above-average number of tough saves, whereas Demko has struggled in this area. However, Demko has actually performed better than Markstrom, and better than most other goaltenders, when it comes to making the routine saves.

This could be a problem for the Canucks if they continue to bleed chances, but highlights that Demko is sound enough positionally to stop routine shots with ease.

4. Bad games have skewed his numbers

Despite the average numbers (3.03 GAA and a .905 save percentage), there are signs that Demko has been above average for most of the season.

Quality start percentage takes into account how goaltenders perform versus the league average. To have a quality start, the goaltender’s save percentage on a certain game has to be above the league average (.909 this season).

While Demko’s .905 save percentage is below average, his quality start percentage is among the best in the league at 66.7%. For reference, 53% is considered a league average quality start percentage, and anything above 60% is considered strong.

Demko has allowed five or more goals on five occasions this season. That’s the bad news. The good news is, he’s performed at an above-average level in two-thirds of his starts this season.

For reference, Markstrom’s quality start percentage sits at 58.1% on the year.

5. Home success versus road woes

Here is Demko’s record at home versus on the road so far this season:

GP W L T/O GA SA SV SV% GAA
Home 10 7 1 1 25 271 246 0.908 2.76
Road 10 3 5 1 31 316 285 0.902 3.29

As you can see by the numbers, they aren’t drastically different aside from the record.

Situationally, wins have just been harder to come by on the road for Demko. He had some strong performances against the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers that resulted in losses, and others like the Pittsburgh Penguins game where you can put some blame on Demko for the loss.

At home, he was lucky to get the win against the Buffalo Sabres in December when he allowed five goals. In others, like the Blues game in January, he stole the victory.

Demko’s run of games will begin with a four-game eastern road trip, so they’ll have to focus on getting him some run support to ease the pressure.