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Canucks goaltending pipeline might be the class of the NHL

The goalie conduit in Vancouver oozing black and gold.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Vancouver Canucks
It’s not just the two NHL netminders (Jacob Markstrom, left and Thatcher Demko, right) that makes the Canucks pipeline the envy of the NHL. The prospects behind them are worth mentioning as well.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

When the Vancouver Canucks selected 18-year-old Latvian goaltender Arturs Silovs in the 6th round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, most Vancouver fans barely noticed. They were instead still focused on earlier round blue-chip choices Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander. However, Artrus Silovs represents an important final cog for the Canucks’ organizational depth with puck-stoppers. The intention is that this pick should solidify the key position for the next decade or more to come.

The 6’4” Riga native represents the bottom-rung in the Canucks’ pipeline goalie expansion. He came to prominence when he stood on his head for his over-matched Latvian team at the 2018-19 U18 World Junior Championships, posting a .918 save percentage. He carried them on his back to the quarter-finals of the tournament. He nearly eliminated Canada in the quarter-final game making 40 saves.

He is playing for the Barrie Colts of the OHL this season after signing an entry level contract with the Canucks. He has been inconsistent so far but when he plays well he is hard to score on. He has already established himself as Barrie’s number one tender getting the bulk of the Colts’ game starts.

At the very top of the Canucks’ organization’s goalie pyramid is late-blooming veteran keeper Jacob Markstrom. Once dubbed the best goalie not playing in the NHL, he arrived in Vancouver as a failed-prospect, warm-body roster replacement in return for the legendary Roberto Luongo. He seemed an afterthought and most assumed Vancouver’s other crease-guarder at the time, Eddie Lack, would assume the first string mantle from Luongo. The next season he was slipped through waivers to Utica while Ryan Miller and Lack shared the Canucks’ goal crease. Suddenly, he finally found his pro game posting a .934 save percentage and a 1.88 goals average for Utica. He then carried an inferior Comets’ roster on his back to the Calder Cup finals falling just short of a Championship. That performance no doubt led Canucks’ General Manager Jim Benning to decide to trade the popular Lack in the off-season opening up the back-up role to Miller for Markstrom to inherit.

After two seasons as Miller’s back-up, Markstrom finally assumed Vancouver’s number one NHL goalie designation during the 2017-18 season. Most assumed that he would simply be a place-holder until designated franchise goalie stud Thatcher Demko was ready to take over from him. That was where the blue-paint future was headed until unexpectedly in December of 2018, the 29-year-old Markstrom, under goalie coach Ian Clark’s tutelage, appeared to finally turn into the world class goalie that many had predicted he would become a decade earlier.

Clark’s teachings have also helped put the finishing touches on 23-year-old Thatcher Demko. The projected Canucks’ long-term number one keeper is already performing like a 1B goalie and appears close to emerging as a top goalie in the league. In tandem with Markstrom, the Canucks have not had this top-level combination of rubber-blockers since they challenged for Stanley Cups with Thing #1 and Thing #2 almost a decade ago.

Demko has starred at every level, and all things point to him doing it as well in the NHL. The Canucks’ appear to be on the verge of another goaltender controversy but unlike the Luongo/Schneider question this time, it could involve a trio of top talents.

Diminutive 20 year old prospect Michael DiPietro is setting the AHL on fire in his first professional season. The Memorial Cup winner finished his CHL career with a 14 game playoff winning streak before injury stopped him from potentially claiming a second Cup in his final OHL season. He has not missed a step since then posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.26 goals against average so far for the Utica Comets. Those types of numbers for a rookie AHL goalie are very rare especially for one who doesn’t fit the prototypical height requirements of today’s supposed ideal NHL goalie.

Things haven’t gone quite as well for 23-year-old undrafted NCAA college star Jake Kielly in his pro debut. He has made seven starts for Kalamazoo in the ECHL posting a 2-4-1 record with a .860 save percentage and 4.75 goals against average. It is a bit soon to write off the Clarkson Alumni stopper yet given that he posted a .929 save percentages in each of his final two university seasons allowing under two goals per game in each of those two seasons as well. Ian Clark apparently gave a thumbs-up to the signing earlier this year and saw a potential NHL goalie in his future. Until Clark gives a thumbs down fans should be patient.

Seventh round 2018 draft pick Matthew Thiessen was plucked out of the MJHL after two stellar seasons between the pipes for the Steinbach Pistons. The 19-year-old spent last year in the USHL as the number one keeper for the Dubuque Fighting Saints. This season the freshman is the back-up goalie for the University of Maine Black Bears behind third year first stringer Jeremy Swayman. Thiessen has only made one appearance this season so far and it did not go well as he was shelled for 3 goals on 6 shots in 7 minutes leaving him with a .500 save percentage and a gaudy goals against average of 25.59. One bad game is unlikely to deter the Black Bears from their long term plan of having Thiessen eventually succeed Swayman as their number one keeper. Like Kielly, it is too early to write him off as a viable net prospect. Clark also was rumoured to have played a part in Thiessen’s selection by the Canucks’ draft team.

The Canucks’ goaltender situation is the envy of most NHL organizations. They have two top-notch goalies already competing for the number one NHL job with another one in the AHL giving every indication he will join that battle sooner than later. They have a quality former NCAA star getting his pro feet wet in the ECHL prepping to compete for an AHL starter’s job. Lastly, they have two raw talents, one in the NCAA and one in the OHL for whom the skies are still the limits. The Canucks’ crease should remain in good hands for the foreseeable future.