Vancouver Canucks Analysis: Jacob Markstrom is Near-Elite

Dec 28, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) awaits the start of play against the Los Angeles Kings before the start of the first period at Rogers Arena. The Los Angeles Kings won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) awaits the start of play against the Los Angeles Kings before the start of the first period at Rogers Arena. The Los Angeles Kings won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /

Vancouver Canucks netminder Jacob Markstrom is playing a starter’s game, broaching an elite status.

With 14 starts so far this year for the Vancouver Canucks, goaltender Jacob Markstrom is making a strong case to become the Vancouver Canucks’ next No. 1 after aging Ryan Miller, who has started 28 this season. Markstrom should be a shoo-in to the starting role when Miller leaves after next year.

After benching him at the 2104 Heritage Classic in favour of fan favourite Eddie Lack, Vancouver traded a franchise netminder and potential Hall-of-Famer in Roberto Luongo for a (then) high-risk, high-reward Markstrom. And hence, though the 6-foot-6 Swede has yet to reach the prime of his career, it is hard not to draw comparisons between the two netminders who are born 11 years apart.

You might think that. I did too, a few weeks ago at least.

But seeing Markstrom maintain a .933 save percentage through 16 games has changed my mind. And so far, I have been pleasantly surprised with where Markstrom sits in the league in the stats.

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As a former netminder myself — although highly amateur — I can say that goaltending is a mental art as much as a physical one. All of the NHL netminders have reasonably excellent physical traits — the most obvious being that they are almost entirely over six feet tall, something that I fail to check — and mobility, instinctive angling, reaction, and so on.

All things considered, the mental aspect of netminding is just as important as the physical one, especially at the NHL level. Everyone got signed to deals worth millions of dollars for being able to play up to the NHL. From that standpoint, the puck is played on a rather level surface where everyone is physically talented enough.

That is where the mental kicks in. Each play is a beast of its own, with dozens of factors that affect when, where, and how the puck gets thrown on net and leaves the equipment of the netminder. When you have to spend the most time out there on the ice out of the entire team, it is only a fine mental line, known as “focus”, that separates an AHL-level game from an NHL-level game. Physicality doesn’t solve all.

Then, coming back to Markstrom, how has his mental game lived up to the NHL standards?

In-Depth Analysis: Markstrom is Mentally almost Elite

We all know that his glove hand has issues. In fact, Greg Balloch broke it down further for The Province. It is not only about his glove hand, it is about tracking the puck’s trajectory. Simply put, inaccurate tracking causes more motion, which then causes more delay. With this in mind, the statistical analysis to best gauge his ‘mental game’ will yield surprising results for you.

To gauge the netminder’s focus level, I have chosen two scenarios. Obviously, focus comes when the netminder knows that he has got to make a save to keep the score tied, to keep the lead, or to hold the deficit from growing.

Scenario One: Even Strength, score Close

In a sample limited to netminders who played 400+ minutes of close-score hockey, Markstrom ranked sixth in save percentage at .945 behind Luongo (.950). Above Luongo are James Reimer, Braden Holtby, Connor Hellebuyck, with Petr Mrazek at the top with a .952 save percentage.

When the shots are scaled by shooting zones, the adjusted save percentage yielded more surprising results. This does well to offset the quality of defencemen who play in front of the goaltender — a netminder facing tougher shots should get more credit than a netminder saving just as many weaker shots, right?

In adjusted save percentage, Markstrom tied Holtby for second, both with .948 save percentages. That put Markstrom atop the West, as first-place honours fall to Reimer. Luongo stood sixth with .945 save percentage, and Miller actually came a close seventh with a .943.

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Under the same condition, I took a look at the high-danger save percentage — literally, save percentage on shots from high-scoring areas on the ice. Markstrom came in third at .910, behind Jonathan Quick (.911) and Reimer (.930).

But if all these stats show that Markstrom is an elite netminder when poised and focused, the flip side of the coin says otherwise. So how about consistency?

I gauged consistency with the low- and medium-danger save percentages. After all, if you cannot hold your focus for the duration of the game that include soft scoring chances, you are not an elite netminder.

And that is where Markstrom fell from the short-lived statistical glories of the elite category.

Miller showed his consistency at fourth with a .988 low-danger save percentage, behind Hellebuyck, Eddie Lack (!), and Linus Ullmark. Markstrom and his .977 low-danger save percentage fell to 24th in the league. He sits above Corey Crawford and under Marc-Andre Fleury — good netminders who are not exactly consistent, nor elite.

Markstrom was 21st on the medium-danger save percentage.

Scenario Two: Short-handed, score close

In a sample of netminders who have played 50+ minutes of short-handed hockey, I took the same metrics. It was a similar storyline for 25-year-old Markstrom.

Second to Frederik Andersen in save percentage at .940, third in adjusted save percentage at .941. Third in high-danger save percentage at .889 (with Luongo second with .929), but 18th in mid-danger scoring chances. Interesting to note that Markstrom saved all low-danger opportunities on the PK. So he can be air-tight when the pressure is really on him, like when he is on the PK.

Bottomline? Markstrom is elite when he is mentally zoned-in. The reason he is not elite? Because he is not mentally zoned-in 100 percent of the time.

Comparison to Luongo

Statistics tells us that Markstrom’s abilities in close games and in high-danger situations are equal, perhaps above, Luongo’s abilities, albeit with Markstrom as a 25-year-old and Luongo as a 36-year-old. Luongo is mentally focused more consistently and that is why he boasts a .930 all-situation save percentage this season, compared to Markstrom’s .920.

Related: 10 Thoughts as Markstrom’s Canucks beat Luongo’s Panthers

Also, notice how Luongo’s numbers on the penalty kill spike up compared to the rest of his advanced stats. This shows that Luongo can read plays at an elite level, and Markstrom? Not so much quite yet.

As for their respective careers as a whole, Markstrom is playing a strong backup role seven years after he was drafted 31st overall in 2008. Luongo assumed the starter role in Florida in 2001, four years after he was drafted fourth overall in 1997. Markstrom is behind, but considering his European career and how much stronger the NHL netminding is now compared to 1997, I think we can forgive him.

I really like Markstrom’s chances in Vancouver as the youth movement unfolds. Also do not count Thatcher Demko out of the equation, the 20-year-old NCAA Boston College netminder who had a record-breaking start to his season.

Next: Demko is too Good to be Real

For the careers ahead of them, Markstrom has a decade-plus in front of him and Luongo has less than five years left in him. Of course, Markstrom is about $3.5M cheaper per year than Luongo is, at least for the next two years. Florida still has about $20M after this season to pay Bobby Luo. Fair deal for Vancouver? I think so. Should Markstrom mature to toughen up mentally, he will become a heck of a presence in net for Vancouver.

So what do you think? Is Markstrom really as good as he is stat-wise? Will he ever come close to being a netminder that Luongo was for the Canucks? Or does a better defence and a Miller-less market give Markstrom a shot at the elite status in a couple of years? Comment below!

*Stats via, contract information via