Vancouver Canucks: Goalies of the Future Impressing Today

Sep 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team Sweden Goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) makes a save against Team Russia Center Evgeni Malkin (71) in the third period during preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Sweden won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team Sweden Goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) makes a save against Team Russia Center Evgeni Malkin (71) in the third period during preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Sweden won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko and Michael Garteig are considered the Vancouver Canucks’ goalies of the future. But the future might be closer than we think.

The Vancouver Canucks head into the 2016-17 season with a goaltending tandem of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom.

Miller, 36 years old, is on the last year of his contract with the team. Observers expect the Canucks to roughly split duties between Miller and Markstrom, to prepare the latter for life as a starter. The Canucks also extended their AHL starter Richard Bachman through 2018.

After them, the Vancouver Canucks have signed two gems out of the NCAA: their 2014 second-round pick Thatcher Demko and free agent Michael Garteig from the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

The Canucks have a bright future in the crease. But over the weekend, fans got to see a bit of that future play out in the present. Each of the three young Canucks goaltenders — Markstrom, Demko and Garteig — made a debut over the weekend. The first debut was highly anticipated, the second was unexpected, and the third was underrated.

Thatcher Demko solid in losing effort for the Canucks Prospects

After watching Demko tear up the NCAA last season, Canucks fans were eager to see his debut in blue and green uniform.

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On Friday, it finally happened. And while the result was disappointing, Demko came as advertised.

The Edmonton Oilers, led by fourth-overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi, overcame a Vancouver Canucks team with much less firepower. Puljujarvi himself beat Demko twice: once into a virtually empty net when the puck bounced to him in the slot, and again with a perfect shot to the top corner off off a rush.

Still, Demko finished the game with 29 saves despite losing a 4-1 decision.

Common wisdom suggests that Demko will spend at least two years developing in the American Hockey League. With one more season of Miller and two more of Bachman, there is no need to rush Demko along. Nonetheless, in his first game in a Canucks uniform, he showed great poise in a scrambly affair.

Demko might not be a full-time NHL goaltender for years yet. If he continues to excel, though, he might get an audition with the big club before then.

Jacob Markstrom makes a surprise start for Team Sweden

Henrik Lundqvist was always going to start Sweden’s tournament opener against Russia on Sunday — until he came down with the flu.

So, only a few hours before puck drop, Markstrom went from sitting at the Swedish bench to standing in the Swedish crease. Markstrom played parts of two pre-tournament games and did not surrender a goal.

He was equally solid in his first tournament action, extending his shutout streak by another 59 minutes before being beaten by a seeing-eye shot from Alex Ovechkin. A second goal from Ovechkin was disallowed, giving Markstrom the win.

The heir-apparent to the Canucks’ crease did keep the high-flying Russian offense at bay for nearly 60 minutes in a game he wasn’t even supposed to play. Shutout or no shutout, Markstrom isn’t complaining, and neither are fans.

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Will this be the last action for Markstrom at the World Cup? It’s hard to say for sure.

As long as Lundqvist is healthy, he is obviously Sweden’s first choice. But, Sweden plays their next game on Tuesday — will the King recover from his illness in time?

Not to mention that Lundqvist allowed for five goals on 22 shots in Sweden’s final pre-tournament game. Before that, Lundqvist took a puck in the ribs in practice. So far, the World Cup has not been kind to him.

Given the format, every team will need to win at least two of their three games to advance. If Lundqvist starts Swedens’ second game, loses the game and looks even slightly uncomfortable, will Marky get the nod in game three?

It’s not a certainty, but it is something Sweden will have to seriously consider.

"Markstrom: Communication key for our defence #WCH2016— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 18, 2016"

Michael Garteig leads the Prospects to a win versus the Winnipeg Jets

Before playing college hockey, Garteig posted some award-winning seasons in the BCHL. He led the league in goals-against and save-percentage both with the Powell River Kings, and then with the Penticton Vees.

Now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, the Prince George, BC, native came home to play in Penticton once again.

Canucks fans were probably not anticipating Garteig’s debut as much as Demko’s, but Garteig still looked just as solid. Behind his 28 saves, the Canucks outlasted the Winnipeg Jets for a 3-2 win.

With two goaltenders in Vancouver and another two in Utica, it looks like Michael Garteig will be assigned to the Canucks’ new ECHL affiliate, the Alaska Aces, if he is going to get playing time.

But an injury to any of the four goalies ahead of him will mean that Garteig steps up to Utica. By the end of this season, who knows where he’ll be?

Could the Future be Now?

The Vancouver Canucks are set in goal for quite a few years. The question now becomes, will anything accelerate their plans?

There are two wrinkles which could come up to affect this pecking order.

First, if the Canucks are out of playoff contention in February, they could deal Ryan Miller at the trade deadline. Management are keeping Miller in order to remain competitive for a playoff berth. If this season does not go their way, the team could — and should — cut ties with the veteran.

After Vancouver failed to trade Radim Vrbata or Dan Hamhuis at last year’s deadline, the pair left in free agency with no compensation. Why repeat the same mistake with Miller?

With Markstrom playing the way he is, there is a good chance he will be the starter by the end of the year anyway, with or without Miller. Regardless, the Canucks certainly don’t need to hang onto Miller if they are out of playoff contention.

The second wrinkle is the upcoming expansion draft. The Canucks kept Bachman because they need to make one goaltender available to Las Vegas. They don’t want to expose Markstrom. Miller will not have a contract as of July 1st and is therefore ineligible. Demko and Garteig have no NHL experience and are not at risk. That makes Bachman the sacrificial lamb.

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Odds are that Bachman won’t be taken, as he will be one of 30 available goaltenders, and will hardly be the most talented. The Canucks may try to flip him after the expansion draft, to gain another pick and to make room for Demko to be the starter in Utica in 2017-18.

It’s fun to draw up trade scenarios for Vancouver’s two veteran goaltenders. If the worst-case scenario is that Markstrom becomes the starter next season, and Demko two seasons later, that is a future Vancouver Canucks fans can look forward to.