It has only been two games, but Spencer Martin has already earned the trust and admiration of Vancouver Canucks fans. How could he not? In his two starts Martin has a .953 save percentage, has stopped 3.11 goals above expected (according to MoneyPuck.com), and managed to steal a point for the Canucks in both outings.
In fact, Martin has managed to salvage points in every game he has played this season as even in Abbotsford with the baby Canucks he held a record of 5-0-2 prior to his call up. But is it too early for fans to call for a Jaroslav Halak trade? Not necessarily.
Martin’s hot start didn’t come out of nowhere, it is the result of the culmination of lots of hard work. At 26-years-old he has been developing his game in the minors for years and is just now entering the window in which goaltenders often hit their prime. Martin’s emergence brought to mind another NHL goaltender who wasn’t given his shot until later in his career, and who ran with it.
Chris Driedger’s rise to the NHL was remarkably similar to what we are witnessing now with Martin. The two goaltenders are just one year apart in age, they were both third round draft picks out of the CHL, and they both made their NHL debuts four years after they were drafted. Neither were given a real chance at the NHL level, and they each had to battle their way through the minors to prepare for their inevitable opportunities.
Driedger didn’t win his first NHL game until he was 25, and he did so with a team that took a chance on him in the Florida Panthers. Similar to Martin however, he did have tastes of the NHL before then with the team that drafted him. Though Martin is yet to win his first NHL game, it is inevitable this season due to his incredible play, and the persistence of COVID-19.
He is running away with the opportunity provided to him by Canucks, who acquired him for future considerations from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the offseason. In other words, he was acquired for free. It is a rare trade of Jim Benning’s that is paying remarkable dividends.
So will Martin follow in Driedger’s NHL path? Driedger was spectacular in his first few games with the Panthers after achieving his first NHL win, but was still sent back down to the AHL when Sam Montembault, the then Panthers backup, returned from injury. This will be the case with Martin as well.
With Thatcher Demko expected to return soon, and once Halak is back on the ice, Martin will be returned to the Abbotsford Canucks. This could be seen as a setback for a goaltender who was so close to tasting NHL consistency, but in Driedger’s case, he simply went back to work. As a result he found himself back in the big leagues soon enough. I believe Martin has the same drive, and that we will likely see him back in Vancouver even after his reassignment.
With Martin becoming a UFA this upcoming season, every game plays a massive part in deciding his financial future in hockey. With many questions surrounding prospect Michael DiPietro’s development as of late, Martin is a goaltender the organization should keep around. He could serve as a tremendous option as the NHL backup next season if DiPietro is not ready.