After the debacle of his first NHL start, Mike DiPietro is having a solid rookie season with the Utica Comets. What is his future with the Canucks?
The Vancouver Canucks have a decision to make soon regarding their goaltenders. Jacob Markstrom is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and he will most likely want more than his current salary.
Waiting in the wings is Thatcher Demko who is having a solid first full season in the NHL. He looks like he could be ready to take over the starting position as soon as the 2020-21 season.
If Markstrom ultimately does not sign or becomes a member of the new Seattle expansion franchise, Demko will need a backup and that’s where Michael DiPietro comes in. After the debacle that was his first NHL start, people were concerned that his psyche may have been forever damaged. But the adversity he faced turned out to be a great learning experience, as DiPietro explained:
"But that was probably the best thing for me, looking back on it, because it really opened up my eyes to what the pro game’s about, and I owe not just the players, but the coaching staff with how understanding they were and making sure that I continue to grow my game. So it’s been a long eight months, but I think it’s been pretty good."
It definitely wasn’t the ideal situation for a goaltender still plying his trade in the Ontario Hockey League. But he used it as a learning experience and adjusted his mental and physical game because of it. In the end, it may have been the best thing for the young goaltender from Windsor, Ont.
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After returning to the OHL with the Ottawa 67’s, he went on an amazing 12-game winning streak in the playoffs. His individual numbers were stellar as well, posting a stingy 2.26 goals against average along with a .913 save percentage. Unfortunately, he was injured in Game 2 of the OHL Final.
That kept him away from the Memorial Cup and a chance to add another title to his trophy case before his junior career was over.
That performance, however, started to douse any fires that may have started after that nightmarish NHL start against the San Jose Sharks.
The next challenge for DiPietro was the American Hockey League and the Utica Comets. Many analysts in the offseason speculated that he would start in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings. But a solid performance in training camp won him one of the backup goaltender jobs behind starter Zach McIntyre.
The rest, as they say, is history. DiPietro won his first AHL start and has never looked back. He now leads all rookie goaltenders with a 2.44 goals against average and is a close second with a .913 save percentage. He also sports a very solid 7-4 record.
Every game, he has given his team a chance to win, even stealing a couple of games already as well. There was one in early October where he made 38 saves and another recently where he made 41 saves. He also had only three starts where he has allowed more than three goals against. Pretty solid for a rookie goaltender, wouldn’t you say?
If he is able to continue improving in the AHL and finish the season strong, DiPietro could force general manager Jim Benning’s hand in Markstrom’s negotiations. If he feels that DiPietro is ready to play in the NHL as a backup, Markstrom could get exposed to Seattle.
DiPietro may soon get a chance to prove that the first start demons have been exorcised, as he was called up by the Canucks on Monday. But barring a poor performance from Demko, I do not see him getting any games since the schedule is lighter the next two weeks with no back-to-backs until Dec 14-15. I expect that Markstrom will be back from his leave of absence long before then.
Regardless, DiPietro will get some solid NHL practice time with goaltending guru Ian Clark, and that is never a bad thing. One thing is certain, he is looking like another solid option down the road for the Canucks. We may soon get to see two goaltenders fully developed by the team starting from the draft all the way to the NHL. Say what you want about Benning, but he has stocked the prospects cupboard to the brim with potential NHL talent in recent years.
One thing is certain, we should be excited to see a tandem of Demko and DiPietro potentially debuting in 2020-21.