As of late, the Vancouver Canucks organization has been putting the development of prospect goaltender Arturs Silovs on the backburner, instead focusing on attempting to create a winning culture in Abbotsford. Not only is this a huge problem because the team continues to underperform, but they are also potentially stunting the growth of one of the organizations top prospects.
When Silovs was drafted with the #156th pick in the 2019 NHL entry draft, not many Canucks fans took note. Though he had put up good numbers in the MHL (Russia’s top junior league) and the top Latvian pro league in his draft year, he was the 15th goaltender picked in the draft. Not many people outside of the Canucks organization knew what to make of the 6-foot-4 18-year-old. However, it soon became very clear that the Canucks felt they had something special in Silovs.
The lanky Latvian goaltender found himself a member of the Barrie Colts organization just days after the draft when he was selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2019 CHL import draft, and under a month later, the Canucks let the fans know just how highly they valued their sixth-round pick. After impressing at rookie camp, Silovs signed his entry level contract with Vancouver on August 23rd of 2019, at just 18 years old. He signed with the Barrie Colts of the OHL exactly one month later and began what is often a difficult transition to North American ice.
In his first and only season in the OHL, Silovs certainly wasn’t a standout. But when you consider it was his first season playing hockey outside of Europe, you begin to understand the skills that he possesses. He posted an .891 save percentage and a 3.87 GAA in 36 games with Barrie, holding a record of 16-13-4.
The following season, in a campaign riddled with COVID restriction struggles, Silovs managed to play just five games of professional hockey split between two teams in the Latvian pro league and the Manitoba Moose. In his AHL debut, the then 19-year-old fared well and showed he had the potential to be a big piece of the Abbotsford Canucks the following season.
This season, Silovs is one of a trio of goalies the Abbotsford Canucks have iced who hold NHL potential. I am all for goaltending depth, and I like Spencer Martin as much as the next guy (maybe more), but this is a problem.
Through the team’s first 35 games, Silovs has just nine starts, the same amount as 26-year-old Martin, while 22-year-old Michael DiPietro has had 16. As a now 20-year-old rookie in his first full pro season in North America, it’s okay for Silovs to take a back seat every once and a while to learn from his more tenured partners. However, a problem arises when he sits on the sidelines too long.
So far this season, Silovs has averaged almost two weeks between each start, coming in at once every 13.125 days. This is not how you develop a young goaltender. Many people would argue that his work at practice and with Abbotsford goaltending coach Curtis Sanford is contributing to his development, and I would tend to agree. However, seeing how DiPietro has played this season forces me to reconsider.
Last season a 21-year-old DiPietro played just four games, all with the Utica Comets. The remainder of his time was spent with the Canucks taxi-squad and working with Canucks NHL goalie coach Ian Clark. Despite this full year of dedicated training, we are now seeing the effects of a lack of game experience. DiPietro has not looked like the goalie flooded with potential we once saw backstopping Canada at the World Junior Championship.
Though his save percentage this season (.894) is higher than Silovs’ (.888), it has been discredited by shockingly weak goals and plays severely lacking poise. Silovs on the other hand has played far better than his stats suggest. Each night, the confident rookie displays the best aspects of his game while remaining composed, and calming the scrambling team in front of him. A large problem in young goaltenders is how they utilize their size, but with Silovs, he effectively applies his size when facing screens, and is already able to see through traffic at the AHL level because of it.
I was hesitant to write this article, but on Monday night when I saw Martin receiving yet another start in Abbotsford, and against a struggling team no less, I felt I was given no choice. I understand that starting an AHL veteran like Martin might give the team a better chance of winning, but is it worth risking the development of Silovs?
Is winning a couple more AHL games worth risking the possibility of NHL wins for Vancouver in the future? This is a decision the organization must resolve before yet another prospect has their growth stunted in the AHL.