The Canuck Way Mailbag: Demko, Pettersson, Juolevi, more

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Mark Stone shakes hands with Thatcher Demko after a very hard-fought series (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks incredible ride in the 2020 NHL Playoffs has come to an end, and with that in mind, it’s time for this week’s edition of the mailbag.

Meeting expectations is good, but exceeding expectations is better.

The Vancouver Canucks‘ season checklist was complete with an appearance in the best-of-16 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not only did the young team make it to the dance, but they defeated the favored Minnesota Wild, eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions in six games, and pushed the powerhouse Vegas Golden Knights all the way to the final minutes of Game 7.

They were one win away from a Western Conference showdown versus the Dallas Stars. Talk about blowing all expectations out of the water. For a team that was doubted by many to even make the postseason, Vancouver has now put themselves firmly on the map, and this is only just the beginning of what should be a long and successful string of deep playoff appearances.

But now that Vancouver can put the 2020 playoffs behind them, it’s time to start asking questions about not only the playoff experience but what’s to come next for the team in the offseason. In other words, it is time for this week’s edition of The Canuck Way Mailbag.

Both, Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko were unbelievably good in the playoffs this year. When Markstrom went down with an injury, I didn’t expect a goalie who hadn’t started a game in over six months to be able to handle the workload. Vancouver was already down in the series three games to one, and all hope seemed lost. Boy, was I ever wrong?

Although I’ve always been a big supporter of the up and coming netminder from San Diego, California, I didn’t expect him to be able to play up to the standards of Vancouver’s 2019-20 MVP. Not only did he play on the same level as Markstrom, but in fact, he exceeded that mark. Simply incredible.

Demko stopped 42 of 43 shots in Game 5 to earn the win. He followed that up with his first-ever shutout in Game 6 stopping all 48 pucks. And he allowed just one goal against in the final minutes of Game 7. He was an absolute game-changer. It’s mindblowing to think that after posting a 0.986 save percentage through three games, Vancouver didn’t advance.

A goaltending performance like his 123 saves on 125 shots hasn’t been done in as long as I can remember. The closest thing that comes to mind is J.S. Giguere and his incredible performance in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. The fact that they didn’t win the series with goaltending like that is crazy, but it’ll do wonders for his future. The entire hockey world now knows the name, Thatcher Demko.

I know how much they want to give Markstrom all the money in the world to stay in Vancouver, but the truth of the matter is: Demko would be the smarter option.

His three-game playoff performance is a small sample size to go off and his regular season was average for a rookie backup, but he’s still the better option for a couple of different reasons.

I’ve always believed Demko would be the future of this team. He’s got the resume to back it up, and now he’s proven he can handle big pressure situations. Not only that, but he’s six years younger than Markstrom (who is already 30), fits the Stanley Cup window of this team much better, and costs significantly less money. Vancouver simply doesn’t have the cash flow to make it work any other way. If I’m the GM of this team, as tough as it would be, I’m letting Markstrom walk to Free Agency.

The team as a whole exceeded all of my expectations this season. However, there were a handful of players that stood out just a little bit more. Some were for better, but some were for worse.

For me, Elias Pettersson‘s first-ever NHL Playoffs performance was beyond my wildest dreams. Silly me, I thought the 176 pound Swede might struggle to adapt to the physical intensity of playoff hockey in the world’s best league. I was dead wrong.

Without skipping a beat, Pettersson took his bumps and bruises without complaint, never looked at the referees for help, and went on to lead the team in scoring. Not only that, but up until elimination, Pettersson chased the playoff points leader the entire way and was tied for second place. Despite being held pointless in Games 6 and 7, Pettersson finished with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 17 games.

As for someone who failed to meet expectations in the playoffs, I have to go with Jake Virtanen. For a player who was well on his way to a 20-goal season, has good foot speed and weight to throw around, it felt like he never showed up. Just a measly two goals and one assist through 16 games.

On top of that, he only averaged slightly over two hits per game and really didn’t help contribute much offensively or defensively. People have been expecting “Playoff Jake” for years now, but that version of Virtanen doesn’t exist. In fact, his number might be up in Vancouver altogether, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim Benning tries to move him for cap space in the offseason.

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