Canucks: The time is now for Thatcher Demko to establish himself

With the recent injury to Jacob Markstrom, the Vancouver Canucks will look to Thatcher Demko as the team’s starting goalie during a pivotal stretch.

What started out as a boring and uneventful day for the Vancouver Canucks and general manager Jim Benning, swiftly turned into emotional roller coaster in the dwindling hours of the NHL trade deadline.

After the absence of netminder, Jacob Markstrom at team practice on Monday morning raised some eyebrows, it was later reported by The Vancouver Province’s Patrick Johnston that the veteran Swede underwent an MRI to identify a knee injury suffered in Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

Benning had to act quickly with the deadline clock ticking and managed to pull off a trade, sending AHL goalie Zane McIntyre to the New Jersey Devils for journeyman goaltender Louis Domingue, providing some much-needed insurance in the crease in the wake of this news. After loads of speculation on the timeline of Markstrom’s injury, the signs point towards a four-to-six week recovery.

This is a calamitous blow to a Vancouver team that is desperately trying to solidify their position in the playoff picture. Markstrom had been performing phenomenally all year, and anyone who has watched the Canucks this season and witnessed some of their untimely defensive lapses will tell you that.

He is arguably the team’s MVP, single-handedly stealing two points for them on nights where they should be losing. There’s no replacing that level of goaltending.

But while Markstrom recovers, it works in the favour of 24-year-old Thatcher Demko, who will take the reins from him and attempt to lead this team to the postseason.

There’s no doubt that Demko’s time to shine was inevitably going to come. Just not necessarily this season, or under these unfortunate circumstances.

The young goaltender has been groomed for this opportunity. He developed well at Boston College, posting a 2.10 GAA over the course of three seasons there.

He paid his dues in the AHL, playing parts of three seasons for the Utica Comets before making the official jump to the NHL on a full-time basis. The guidance of goaltending coach Ian Clark has been an integral part of both Markstrom and Demko’s development and will ease Demko’s transition into a more prominent role than expected at this point in the season.

The awful timing of Markstrom’s injury cannot be undermined. After holding on to the top spot in the Pacific Division for an extended period of time, the Canucks have now dropped down to third in the division, with a 4-4-2 record over their previous 10 games. Every other Pacific team in playoff contention apart from the Coyotes made an addition at the deadline to bolster their rosters for this important final stretch, so most of the competition their fighting with have gotten better. The Canucks have 21 games left, with 11 of them on the road and four back-to-backs.

The organization is about to play their most important games in the past four years. Benning pushed a portion of his chips in over the summer by trading for J.T. Miller, then nudged the rest of his chips in last week by acquiring Tyler Toffoli and letting go of a promising prospect in Tyler Madden. The management group made their decision. The time to make the postseason is now, and they’re being forced to trudge forward without their number one goaltender.

But Benning believes in Demko, praising the young netminder in his recent press conference.

“We’ve been working with Thatcher Demko now for a year and a half,” Benning said. “He’s played good goal for us. Our team has confidence in him. This is an opportunity for him to step in and play like he’s played for us all year.”

The Canucks will be looking for Demko to deliver. He has been categorized as an instrumental piece of the team’s core for the future. Vancouver’s past rookies have been able to step up in their inaugural seasons and provide help immediately. Brock Boeser did it. Elias Pettersson did it. Quinn Hughes is doing it.

Next: Canucks trade for Louis Domingue, what it means

Now, it’s time for the goalie of the future to make an impact, and potentially provide solidarity for the Canucks’ goaltending predicament in the seasons that follow. If any goalie has the composure and maturity to step in and support their team when they need it most, it’s Demko.

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