Canucks: Exploring the rise of goalie Jacob Markstrom

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 22: Goalie Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Vancouver Canucks readies to make a save during NHL action against the Boston Bruins at Rogers Arena on February 22, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 22: Goalie Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Vancouver Canucks readies to make a save during NHL action against the Boston Bruins at Rogers Arena on February 22, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /
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Markstrom in the AHL and NHL

In the 2010-11 season, Markstrom mostly played with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. He struggled in his first AHL season with a 2.98 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Markstrom debuted on Jan. 23, 2011 against the New Jersey Devils where he replaced starter Scott Clemmensen.

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The following season, Markstrom appeared in seven games — winning two of them. He played most of the season with the Panthers’ affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.

He started 32 games with the Rampage — winning 17 — while posting a 2.32 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.

Markstrom recorded his first NHL win on Oct. 22, 2011 against the New York Islanders, stopping all 18 shots he faced.

In the 2012-13 campaign, he won 16 games with the Rampage. Markstrom wound up playing in 23 games for the Panthers, posting a record of 8-14-1 with a 3.22 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

The 2013-14 season was ultimately Markstrom’s last with the Panthers. On March 4th, 2014, (the day before my 14th birthday!) he was traded along with Shawn Matthias to the Canucks in exchange for Luongo and Steven Anthony. He was the backup for Eddie Lack and played four games, winning one of them.

After clearing waivers at the start of the 2014-15 season, Markstrom became the starter for the Utica Comets. There, he had his best season in the AHL — winning 22 games to go along with a 1.88 goals against and a .934 save percentage. Markstrom was named an AHL All-Star, and he led the team to the Calder Cup Final — where they lost to the Manchester Monarchs in five games.

For the next two seasons, Markstrom was the backup for Ryan Miller, and in the 2017-18 season, he split the duties with Anders Nilsson. Markstrom has since posted average numbers during his three full seasons with the Canucks.

Many fans doubted his ability to become a starter, and there was no shortage of criticism on Twitter. Things started to change for Markstrom beginning in 2018-19. But how?

Enter Ian Clark

If there is one man who can be credited for Markstrom’s rise, it’s Ian Clark.

For those who don’t know, Clark with the Panthers as a consultant in the 2001-02 season. The Vancouver native was also a coach for the Canucks from 2002 to 2010.

From 2003-2006, he was also the goaltending coach for Canada at the World Juniors. Clark later served as the goaltending coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets from the 2011-12 season to 2017-18,  before once again returning home to Vancouver. He has coached and mentored the likes of Luongo and two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.

Clark believes the goaltender is the most important position in hockey and is willing to push goaltenders to be better.

“Number one, goaltending is the most individualized coaching position within the game of hockey,” Clark said at Blue Jackets development camp in 2013.

In his final article for The Athletic, (subscription not required for this one.) the late, great, Jason Botchford walked us in on how Clark motivated Markstrom to get better. Clark would show up to the goalie sessions fired up, and Markstrom used that passion for working harder.

One day, after letting in five goals against the Anaheim Ducks, Clark wasn’t pleased with Markstrom, because he let his foot come off the gas pedal after performing so well. He asked Markstrom if he was going to let up or sprint to the finish. With those words, Markstrom helped the Canucks win 3-2 in a shootout against the Dallas Stars with 38 saves.

Clark has not only changed Markstrom’s play in the crease, but also his work ethic and training. Thanks to Clark, Markstrom is tracking the puck better and using his large frame more effectively while also improving his ability to make saves with his glove.

Markstrom is making key saves, bailing the Canucks out when needed and helping them win the necessary games to stay in the playoff race.

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Clark helped Markstrom go from a goalie prospect who failed to live up to expectations to an All-Star, as well as one of the league’s best. Now, the Canucks need to find a way to extend Markstrom in the offseason.