When asked if he is NHL-ready, 22-year-old Vancouver Canucks goalie prospect Thatcher Demko‘s answer is short and sweet.
“I think so, yes.”
Demko was the 36th-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the second goalie taken behind Mason McDonald (Calgary) and just ahead of Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina). He’s the only goalie from his draft with a full NHL game under his belt, and has the best chance to stick with an NHL team in 2018-19.
“Obviously it’s my goal to be in the NHL,” Demko said on Sportsnet 650’s Starting Lineup in Vancouver Tuesday. “I think I’ve grown a lot in the last two years in the American Hockey League and developed. With that being said, at the end of the day it’s not my call whether I’m in the NHL or not, that’s up to the organization and the guys upstairs.
“All I can do is have a great summer, come into camp and really show them that I want to be there and deserve to be there and make the decision hard for them.”
Your browser does not support the
With Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson signed for the big club, the original plan for the Canucks was to spend the season with that twosome and give Demko another year of seasoning in the AHL, his second in the development league. His save percentage improved by 15 points year over year and his GAA dropped from 2.68 to 2.44.
Demko was an early-season call up to the Canucks for cap reasons, but didn’t get into his first game action until the end of March when Nilsson went down with an injury. The goalie had communicated with the Canucks, through his agent, that he wanted to see some NHL action this season not for ego-driven reasons, but just to see where he was at in his development.
He won his start 5-4 in overtime against Columbus, but the Blue Jackets battled back from a 4-1 deficit late in the third, scoring three times in four minutes. On the one hand it was a sour finish, but on the other, none of the goals Demko let in came at even strength.
The first shot he faced was off Cam Atkinson’s stick and it rang off the cross bar. It didn’t take him long to realize how big the next step was up to the NHL game.
“The biggest thing is margin of error gets even smaller when you’re up at the NHL level,” he said. “Guys are more skilled, just quicker, stronger. They can hit spots if they’re given just an ounce of daylight. There’s going to be an adjustment there, but getting that game under my belt is going to give me an idea of what I need to do to be a full-time NHL guy.”
Currently in Boston taking elective courses to finish his schooling (majoring in applied psychology in human development, minoring in philosophy) Demko is preparing himself for a summer of training by staying in close contact with Canucks goaltending coach Dan Cloutier and goaltending consultant Curtis Sanford.
He points out that he needs to still get better at being more efficient with his movements in the crease and though he’s gotten better at that in his AHL experience, it’s obviously even more important another level up.
Nilsson is still signed through 2018-19, and Markstrom has two more seasons left on his contract so there is no obvious role for Demko to slide into with the Canucks next season. His development and rise could in some ways be compared to former Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who was drafted 26th overall exactly 10 years before Demko. Schneider got into eight NHL games four years after the Canucks picked him in 2008-09, but was returned to the AHL for another year after. He didn’t stick as an NHLer until 2010-11 and if Demko follows suit, he won’t arrive as a full-timer until 2020-21.
And even after Schneider arrived, he was still in a tandem with Roberto Luongo. But it’s hard to imagine Demko is still three seasons away from full-time duty – odds are he’ll get here before long.
“I’m just a guy that is going to come in regardless of what situation he’s in and just push himself to get to that next stage,” Demko said. “You can see it even in my first year pro in the American Hockey League. Didn’t have a great start, was just getting used to the adjustment, but I’m not a guy that’s going to get rattled just because I had a bad couple games or whatever it may be. Obviously there’s a development curve there, but it’s something I’m ready and willing to take on.”