Canucks Prospect: Thatcher Demko

Author: Jason Botchfold, TheProvince.com
Date: May 18, 2017

Connor Hellebuyck is the best college goalie there ever was.

He has the record for career save percentage and could, if he was so inclined, line an office with all the awards he won.

The Winnipeg Jets drafted him five years ago. And two years ago, he debuted as a pro and then started really blowing up. He was an AHL All-Star Classic and led the minor league with 58 games played in his rookie season. When that was over, he guided a young Team USA to a bronze-medal performance at the world championship.

He looked like the truth, and the smartest people in the goalie community were telling people he was the real deal, and had just about everything going for him.

Jets fans were going bananas. They wanted him starting in the National Hockey League, like yesterday. The Jets instead split his next season between the minors and spot duty in the NHL. It went well, really well.

This fall he seemed ready for the next step. Until he wasn’t. After a nice start, things went sideways. It led to a two-week mental break in January, and people believing he was rushed.

All of this works as a cautionary tale in Vancouver, where the Canucks will be trying to transition their No. 4-ranked prospect, Thatcher Demko, from NCAA star to productive minor-league goalie to NHL bonafide No. 1 status.

How long will it take?

Well, don’t expect him to arrive anytime soon, but that question promises to be one of the biggest of the Jim Benning era.

“We are excited about his future but we need to be patient with him,” Benning said. “We don’t want to rush him because he is an important guy.

 

Young goalies take time

“With young goalies, the last thing you want to do is get them up here and get them going before they’re ready, and then have them lose confidence. We’re going to do the right thing by him because we feel so strongly about him as a player.”

There are those around the team who believe he may need two more full years in the AHL to be ready, maybe with some NHL experience sprinkled in.

It basically would mean a three-year minor-league apprenticeship, which is exactly how Cory Schneider was developed.

“My theory on goalies is that you don’t really know what you have until they are 26 or 27,” Benning said. “He came a long way this year, but we’re not going to put him in situations where he could lose confidence and doesn’t keep developing.”

Demko’s results were mixed this season in Utica, where he finished with a .907 save percentage, second on his team behind Comets running mate Richard Bachman, who posted a .908 save percentage.

But Demko got better as the season went on and had two great runs. Coincidentally or not, both unfolded when he was head coach Travis Green’s only real option — one time when Bachman was hurt, and the other with Bachman in the NHL on recall.

The second run was the most impressive, a 17-game stretch during which he went 13-4 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.90 goals against average. The run ended with a two-game stretch when he was beat for 10 goals.

“We do think he’s a guy who we can develop into a No. 1 goalie,” Benning said.

“These kids coming out of college or junior have a learning experience in the AHL. He adjusted quickly, though. Halfway through the season, there was a difference.

“In that (late-season run), he was one of the main reasons why (Utica) got on that streak.”

The handling of Jacob Markstrom is a good indicator of just how patient Benning is with his goalies. Heck, Markstrom is 27 and the Canucks still aren’t ready to give him a shot at No. 1, as they’ve been very vocal about their desire to re-sign Ryan Miller.

That Miller contract has the chance to be telling. There’s just not going to be a lot of interest for the soon-to-be-37 goalie, and the Canucks are in a position to bring him back on a one-year deal.

If it’s a two-year deal, however, it will be a strong suggestion as to how much seasoning Demko still needs in the minors before he’s deemed ready for his big chance.

 

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