On February 12th, the Sedin twins jerseys were raised to the rafters, an emotional night celebrating the careers of the two most influential players that have ever represented Vancouver.
However, it was a different Swede who stole the show on that night, as Jacob Markstrom had the game of a lifetime and broke the Canucks record with a 49-save shutout win. The outstanding performance was a culmination of his ascent to stardom that had taken many detours.
At one point, Markstrom was one of the most highly touted goalie prospects in the world. The path to stardom (and yes Markstrom is now a star in this league), was not easy, but his resilience allowed him to become the second goalie to make the journey from Florida to Vancouver and flourish in the Pacific Northwest.
Markstrom was selected 31st in the 2008 NHL draft by the Florida Panthers even though many mocks had him projected as a first round pick. Either way, the Panthers snagged him after the lanky Swedish goaltender had scouts excited with his quickness for his size.
In the years following his selection he would only build the hype around his name, as in the 2009-10 season he would win the Rookie of the Year award as well as the Honken Trophy for Swedish goaltender of the year.
Achieving these feats, all while playing against grown men, before signing an entry-level contract had the hockey world expecting big things from Markstrom when he made the trip across the pond. He would make his NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils as he played the last two periods in a 5-2 loss. This would be Markstrom’s only NHL game during that season as he was sent down to the Panthers AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, directly following that game. To this point he had experienced a smooth path to the top of the hockey world but he was about to face his largest setback yet. He would struggle playing in the AHL and his disappointing season would culminate in a knee injury that required surgery.
The next couple seasons would be rocky for Markstrom as he would bounce in between the NHL and AHL, never reproducing the incredible stats he had in Sweden. He did show flashes of brilliance, such as the beautiful glove save above, yet his underlying metrics showed a goalie who was struggling. His Goals Saved Above Average (a measure of goals prevented compared to an average goalie) stayed in the negatives, reaching a low of -14.89 in the 2013-14 season. This season would mark a major point in Markstrom’s career as on March 4th, 2014 he would be traded to the Vancouver Canucks as part of the deal that brought Roberto Luongo back to Florida.
Markstrom came to Vancouver needing a fresh start, yet when he arrived he would continue to fail to live up to expectations. Heading into the 2014-15 season he was in a battle with Eddie Lack and Ryan Miller for two goalie spots on the Canuck’s roster. Markstrom, the once highly praised prospect who was selected 31st overall in the draft could not beat out the undrafted Lack.
Markstrom was off to the Canuck’s AHL affiliate in Utica where he would backstop the team to first place in the Western Conference. The successful season was a long time coming for Markstrom and he would continue his great play in the playoffs, taking the Comets to the Calder Cup championship where they fell in five games to the Manchester Monarchs. His strong play made the Canucks confident enough to trade Eddie Lack that offseason, opening the backup job for the taking. Markstrom would fill the backup role for two years before he was given the keys to the team before the 2017-18 season.
Unfortunately for Jacob Markstrom, his claiming of the starting job coincided with the Canucks not being a very good team. The lack of talent and structure that surrounded him made his job incredibly difficult his first season, yet he managed to stay afloat. It is only within the past two seasons we have seen the goalie that dominated the top league in Sweden as a teenager take his game to another level.
He has now become known for his calm demeanour, always ready to make the next big save. This season, Markstrom posted a 11.40 Goals Saved Against Average, one of the best marks among starters in the league. The Canucks up and down style of play has left our defence exposed but Markstrom has been there to save the day. His Goalie Point Shares, an estimation of the number of points contributed because of a goalies play, is 4th in the league at 9.2 and he has played in at least 9 less games than any goalie in front of him.
Markstrom is a star, one of the best goalies in the entire league and someone deserving of Vezina votes. The Canucks face a tough decision this summer as Markstrom is an unrestricted free agent and if he hits the open market he will surely receive contract offers that will make him a very wealthy man. These could be too rich for the Canucks as they face a cap crunch with plenty of players to pay.
Whatever the Canucks decide to do Markstrom will forever be remembered as a goalie that we saw blossom and help usher in this new era of Canucks hockey.