Have the Vancouver Canucks Found their Jacob Markstrom Replacement?

Being a starting goaltender in the NHL is difficult for any professional ice hockey player and few would argue otherwise. To succeed in the role, competitors need lightningfast reflexes, unrivaled concentration and the somewhat-overlooked skill of understanding angles. Because of the attributes involved, top-flight teams often seek to retain their goaltenders for many years, once they have found a competent option. However, that is not always possible.

In October 2020, now 31-year-old Jacob Markstrom left the Vancouver Canucks, amid agreeing to a six-year/$36 million free agent contract with the Calgary Flames. Despite losing their starting goaltender, the Canucks may have found an in-house, ready-made replacement in Thatcher Demko. But is he capable of filling Markstrom’s boots long-term? Well, let’s see if he is making the necessary improvements.

Is Demko the Long-Term Solution?

The Southern California native signed an entry-level contract with the Canucks after impressing at Boston College. Upon making his NHL debut in 2018, the 6’4 stopper had to be patient in his search for more first-team opportunities. His promotion to backup goaltender came in 2019, following Anders Nilsson’s trade to the Senators. Demko has not looked back since.

In the 2019-20 campaign, a knee injury saw Markstrom spend a period of time on the sidelines, opening the door for Demko to showcase his talent. That season, the 25-year-old started 25 games. The Canucks won 13 of those, with Demko facing 822 shots. Of those faced, the childhood LA Kings fan let in 78 goals, giving him a goals-against-average of 3.06 and a save percentage of .905, according to his official NHL stats.

From the 2019-20 season to the ongoing 2020-21 campaign, Demko has shown undeniable signs of improvement. By comparison, in his first 25 starts in 2020-21, the netminder has a goals-against-average of 2.77 and a save percentage of .917. Not only that, but he has also registered his first career shutout this season. Should he continue this upward trajectory, there is no reason that Demko will not be the long-term replacement for Markstrom. Now, however, he needs to find consistency to ensure that he stays a regular starter.

Balancing Risk and Reward with the 25-Year-Old’s Contract Extension

Thus far in their history, the Vancouver Canucks have failed to win a single Stanley Cup. Most recently, the Canucks appeared in the 2011 Finals against the Boston Bruins, falling in seven games to Boston after squandering a 3-2 series lead. Following that disappointment and subsequent failures, Travis Green’s outfit must build for the future.

On March 31st, 2021, Vancouver agreed a new five-year extension with Demko. The recently-signed deal is worth $25 million and will keep the Californian at Rogers Arena for the foreseeable future. Despite breaking out from Markstrom’s shadow, Betway highlighted in one of their NHL predictions that they do not foresee Demko being one of the top goaltenders in the 2020-21 campaign, choosing Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy as their standout performer. Moreover, his newly-signed deal doesn’t come close to matching some of the sport’s highest wages. Insight into the highest-paid players states that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner stand as the NHL’s best-paid in 2020-21.

Even though Demko isn’t on the above NHL picks lists, the Vancouver Canucks have made a deal that seemingly benefits all parties. While nobody is claiming that the 25-year-old is the next Henrik Lundqvist, the five-year extension is undoubtedly a calculated gamble. Thus far in 2020-21, Demko has shown what appears to be a level of durability, according to a profile by Vancouver is Awesome. Moreover, he has also given those in front of him reason to believe in his abilities.

What Does the Future Hold for Demko and the Canucks?

It is notoriously hard to predict how a goaltender’s career will go. That said, Demko has the core abilities to fill the void left by Markstrom. The 25-year-old has hit the ground  (or ice) running since taking on more responsibility. Now, he must strive to improve and not rest on his laurels. Steady improvements will be paramount in the Canucks pursuit of Stanley Cup success and avenging their seven-game loss from 2011.