Canucks: How good can Thatcher Demko be?

VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 27: Vancouver Canucks Goalie Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save against the St. Louis Blues during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on January 27, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 27: Vancouver Canucks Goalie Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save against the St. Louis Blues during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on January 27, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Thatcher Demko has long been hailed as the goalie of the future for the Vancouver Canucks, but how good can he really become?

Thatcher Demko has been viewed as the future of Vancouver Canucks goaltending ever since he was picked in the second round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. After spending three more seasons in college and another three in the minors, Demko became the full-time backup to Jacob Markstrom this year, often showing glimpses of his untapped potential. Still only 24 years of age, the young netminder certainly has a bright future ahead of him, but how good can he ultimately become?

In order to find some comparables to Demko, I looked at the careers of every starter and backup goaltender for all 31 teams. To narrow down my search, I picked netminders who broke into the league at the age of 23 and/or 24 and were used in a backup position (between 20-35 games played). Out of more than 60 goalies, only seven fit these criteria:

Looking at the various names on the list proves why goalies are often viewed as being “voodoo.” Netminders like Frederik Andersen and Darcy Kuemper are bonafide top ten goaltenders in the league; the latter was even in the Vezina Trophy conversation this season before sustaining an injury. Meanwhile, others such as Brian Elliott and Antti Raanta have spent the majority of their careers as backups.

So where does this leave Demko? Well, I think it’s unlikely he ever reaches the heights of Andersen or Kuemper because they both posted better numbers than Demko did during their rookie seasons. Moreover, they also owned save percentages that were much higher than the Canucks backup in the American Hockey League.

I personally believe that Demko has the potential to become a solid number one goalie in the league, but the one caveat is whether or not he can stay healthy. The 24-year-old has suffered through multiple injuries during this year and the previous one, which calls into question his durability. He’s also never played more than 46 games in a season before while most starting netminders are expected to suit up for around 55 matches each year. I don’t think it’s fair to call Demko injury-prone, but it’s undoubtedly something that should be monitored given his recent time spent on the sidelines.

If the rookie isn’t capable of shouldering the workload expected for starting goalies, he might be better off as a 1b, which is similar to the roles that Raanta and Jaroslav Halak are currently filling for their respective teams. This would still be a good result for a netminder who was picked in the second round since goalies are notoriously hard to project. However, it might come as a bit of a disappointment for Canucks fans who expected him to develop into a bonafide number one goaltender in the league.

On the other hand, if Demko shows that his recent injury history is an anomaly, there shouldn’t be anything stopping him from becoming a legitimate starting goalie for an NHL team. He could carve out a career similar to Devan Dubnyk’s, who’s been a very serviceable netminder for the Minnesota Wild for the past few seasons. However, I don’t see Demko ever getting Vezina buzz as Dubnyk did a few seasons ago since the latter was able to post stronger numbers during his rookie season while playing on the worst team in the league at the time.

Unfortunately for Demko, the rise of Markstrom has made his path to becoming the starting goalie for the Canucks a lot more complicated. Many fans have wondered if a trade is imminent, so it would be interesting to see what the rookie could fetch Vancouver in a potential deal. The best comparable to a Demko trade would be Philipp Grubauer when he was moved to the Colorado Avalanche during the 2018 offseason, as he was also a backup at the time who posted better numbers than Demko but did it on a much better team. The German netminder was dealt along with Brooks Orpik for a second-round pick, but the defenseman had negative value since he was a cap dump. If Demko were to be traded alone, he could probably fetch something similar to a second and a fourth-round pick in return.

Given Vancouver’s cap situation, however, the team should consider packaging him along with a player who has a bloated contract similar to what the Capitals did with Grubauer. This would allow the Canucks to re-sign some of their free agents and also give Demko an opportunity to earn a starting job elsewhere, which would benefit both parties.

Ultimately, the type of goaltender that Demko becomes will depend on his health. If the rookie isn’t capable of shouldering a heavy workload, he might be better off as a 1b instead of a full-fledged number one goalie. On the bright side, a relatively injury-free career can allow Demko to become the legitimate starting netminder that Canucks fans have expected him to be.

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A potential trade could allow Vancouver to alleviate some cap problems while also giving the 24-year-old an opportunity to thrive in an expanded role, which might be in the best interest of both sides. No matter what happens, there should be no doubt that Demko will enjoy a long and fruitful career as a solid NHL goalie.