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Camp Cuts: Michael DiPietro heads back to the OHL to break some records

Also, three Utica Comets released to the AHL.
Michael DiPietro holds the post for the Vancouver Canucks in preseason action against the Flames.

Throughout training camp and the preseason, PITB is here to explain all the tough cuts the Canucks will need to make to get down to a 23-man roster.

Of course, before we get to the tough cuts, there are a few easy ones to make first. Heading into Thursday night’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Canucks announced that four players were departing from the roster. The lone player in the system that got the cut was goaltender Michael DiPietro.

DiPietro was the Canucks’ third round pick in the 2017 draft and currently plays for the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. Since the OHL season has already begun, it makes sense to get DiPietro back to Windsor as quickly as possible.

The 19 year old has a big season ahead of him. Not only is Windsor looking to bounce back from a rebuilding year last season, but DiPietro is expected to be Team Canada’s starting goaltender at the 2019 World Junior Championship, which will take place in Vancouver and Victoria.

Along the way, DiPietro should pick up a couple records. He’s just one shutout away from tying Thomas McCollum for the most career OHL shutouts and three wins away from Andrew Engalage’s franchise record for most career wins with the Spitfires. A 30-win season would put DiPietro third all-time for most OHL wins.

Since DiPietro didn’t have a chance to crack the Canucks roster, it made sense to let him get started on breaking those records. The Canucks have Jacob Markstrom, Anders Nilsson, and Thatcher Demko ahead of him, not to mention the NHL doesn’t see a lot of 19-year-old goaltenders.

DiPietro showed well at training camp and his one preseason appearance, however. While he only played one period in the preseason, the third period against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, he stopped all ten shots he faced. He looked calm and comfortable.

“I thought he played awesome,” said Demko after the game. “I was super-happy for him. Him and I, this is our second camp together now and we were able to stay in touch last season. He’s a really great kid and I enjoy being around him and seeing him play well tonight was awesome.”

There are some who believe that DiPietro could supplant Demko as the Canucks’ top goaltender in a few year’s time, such as Sportsnet’s John Shannon.

“I truly believe that 5 years from now the starting goalie for the Canucks will be Michael DiPietro,” said Shannon on an appearance on Sportsnet 650. “Nothing against Demko, but DiPietro is a better athlete than Demko.”

That’s likely going too far. Demko is a tremendous athlete himself and is still the Canucks’ top goaltending prospect. Trying to project a 19-year-old goaltender five years down the road is a tough task and placing too much expectation on DiPietro is unnecessary.

DiPietro does play a more aggressive, athletic style than Demko, which is partly preference and partly making up for his smaller frame.

““Let’s be honest here,” he said at his first training camp with the Canucks. “Nobody wants to watch a boring hockey game, so why not give them a little excitement?”

“He plays the way that works for him,” said DiPietro on Wednesday,” and I’ve gotta work on my game and what works for me.”

While DiPietro is a tremendous talent, capable of making stunning, unexpected saves, his size might still be a cause for concern for some. For a while, the league was trending towards monstrous puckstoppers, such as the 6’6” Markstrom and Nilsson.

There has been some course correction, however, with a couple young goaltenders pulling the average down a little. Carter Hutton is 6’0” like DiPietro, while Juuse Saros is 5’11”. Goaltenders like those two suggest that there is a place for a smaller goaltender like DiPietro.

Along with DiPietro, three players signed to AHL contracts were sent down to Utica to join the Comets: Carter Bancks, Jesse Graham, and Jagger Dirk. It’s likely that Wacey Hamilton would have joined them, but he sustained an upper body injury on Tuesday.