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Thatcher Demko can still be one of the best goalies in the NHL

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Although it’s been an up and down season, Demko is trending in the right direction.

Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks
After a slow start, Thatcher Demko has been one of the NHL’s better goalies.
Getty Images

After being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks nearly seven years ago, Thatcher Demko is finally thriving as an NHL starting goaltender.

That might be hard for some people to digest. After all, the Canucks goaltending has been part of the reason why this team is near the league basement.

However, Demko’s game has been trending in the right direction for quite some time.

The first three games of the season did not go well for Demko. He gave up a combined 16 goals in three games — including seven against the Montreal Canadiens behind the Vancouver Canucks Comets defence.

Since then, however, Demko’s .920 save percentage is one of the best among NHL starters. Among 49 goaltenders to play more than five games over that stretch, Demko’s mark is tied for 14th.

I theorized prior to the season’s start that Demko would wind up with the second-best save percentage in Canada. While preseason predictions are largely just amusing and half-witted, I do believe that one has a chance of happening.

Demko’s North Division Rise

Since January 25th (Demko’s latest 12-game stretch), only Edmonton’s Mike Smith (.938) and Montreal’s Jake Allen (.934) have a better save percentage than Demko.

Smith is the unofficial poster boy for hot and cold goaltending in the NHL, and he’s been like that throughout his whole career. Yes, anything can happen in a shortened season, but it’s hard to see the 38-year-old Smith keeping up this torrid pace. There also a distrust of Mikko Koskinen in Edmonton right now. The 6’7” Finn has a .888 save percentage in his last eight starts.

Over the same span of games, Allen’s six starts are half of what Demko has played. However, the former St. Louis Blues goaltender might be primed for more starts, since Carey Price has a humbling .884 save percentage in his last eight appearances. That’s the fifth-worst mark in the league over that stretch.

Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck is the next closest starter behind Demko with a .914 save percentage. Toronto’s Frederik Anderson has nearly a flawless win record (8-1-2) in his last 11 starts, but his .909 save percentage is close to the league average.

And then, over in Calgary, the Flames played Jacob Markstrom into the ground, which in turn led him to owning a .902 save percentage over his last 11 starts. Dave Rittich hasn’t been much better, sitting at .904.

Goaltending is fickle and hard to predict at the best of times, but there’s no reason why Demko can’t be one of the best goalies in Canada...or the NHL, for that matter.

Demko’s driven mindset

Most professional hockey players have to be among the most competitive people on the planet, and Demko is no different.

Firstly, he’s an NHL goalie that hails from San Diego — somewhere that is far from a hockey hotbed.

Regardless, he had been writing down goals for himself as a goaltender since he was 13 years old. As he admitted on an episode of InGoal Radio Podcast back in 2019, he set goals for himself that were one, three, five and 10 years long.

“Back then, you could pick that [book] up and say ‘oh, he’s just a silly 13-year-old setting these lofty goals,’ but I’m not kidding. It was almost a timeline of my entire career,” Demko told host Kevin Woodley on the podcast.

Demko’s success at different levels has been well documented. He led Boston College to a regular-season championship as a rookie in 2014. Then, after undergoing offseason hip surgery in 2015, he bounced-back to break Cory Schnieder’s shutout record at Boston College, which led to him winning the Mike Richter Award as the best goaltender in college hockey.

He then emerged an AHL All-Star in Utica. In the minors, he learned to battle through injuries as well, with a lengthy concussion in 2018 being one of the more notable injuries. On top of that, Demko would suffer from another concussion with the Canucks in 2019.

Despite the setbacks and his long-road to the NHL, Demko has finally arrived as a starter. There have certainly been some humbling moments in Demko’s season — even as recently as the 4-3 defeat against the Edmonton Oilers — but there’s little reason to believe that the 25-year-old cannot overcome it.

He isn’t the .980 save percentage puck-stopping machine that we saw against Vegas in September (hell, no goaltender is), but there’s a good chance that he’s the rock-solid .920 save percentage goaltender that we’ve seen in Vancouver over the past month.

Now...if only the Canucks could shoot at more than a 5.8% clip (their shooting percentage since February 1st), then Demko might be able to snag some more wins as the season progresses.