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Thatcher Demko is still the Canucks best goaltending prospect

Prospect rankings are good for one thing and one thing only: provoking arguments. The dog days of summer are a great time to take stock of a team’s prospect pool.
Thatcher Demko with Dan Cloutier

Prospect rankings are good for one thing and one thing only: provoking arguments.

The dog days of summer are a great time to take stock of a team’s prospect pool. There’s nothing happening at the NHL level and there’s time to reflect on the state of the franchise and its future. The difficulty comes in when you try to rank the prospects in numerical order

I’m with Steve Dangle on this one: trying to determine the difference between the 4th and 5th-best prospect in your favourite team’s system is a fool’s errand, let alone the 17th and 18th- best prospects. I’ll likely end up stealing his Prospect Pyramid idea for this reason.

Corey Pronman, ESPN’s NHL prospects expert, has the unenviable task of ranking not just one team’s prospects, but the prospects for every team in the NHL. He put together a top-100 list of all NHL prospects, then ran down a top-10 for every team in the league. Given the difficulty of ranking that many prospects, there’s likely to be some janky results that don’t square with the opinions of other experts.

For instance, Pronman has Elias Pettersson ranked as the 48th best prospect in the NHL. He clearly has a much lower opinion of Pettersson than pretty much everyone else and there are some truly baffling players ranked above Pettersson on Pronman’s list. But that’s to be expected: it’s a difference of opinion.

Likewise, I disagree with Pronman ranking Kole Lind above Adam Gaudette in the Canucks’ system, though he at least has Gaudette in the top-10, unlike The Hockey News.

But the one that I found truly odd was how he ranked the Canucks’ two goaltending prospects.

Both Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro made it into Pronman’s top-10 goaltending prospects in the NHL, which should be encouraging for Canucks fans concerned about the franchise’s future between the pipes. But the order seems off: Pronman has DiPietro ahead of Demko.

He describes DiPietro as "one of the quickest first-year, draft-eligible goalies I've seen during the past few seasons" and praises his ability to make "tough saves." As for Demko, he focusses on how his "technique got exposed at times as pro shooters took advantage of gaps in his coverage."

Suffice it to say, I thoroughly disagree with Pronman's ranking: Thatcher Demko is still the Canucks’ top goaltending prospect and I don’t think it’s particularly close.

Don’t get me wrong, Michael DiPietro is still a promising young prospect and he was a fantastic pick for the Canucks in the third round, but he still has a long way to go, whereas Demko is already most of the way there.

This smells a lot like recency bias. DiPietro is coming off a strong OHL season, including a spectacular performance at the Memorial Cup. Meanwhile, Demko struggled in his first professional season in the AHL, putting up a .907 save percentage.

But looking at just the last season ignores just how good Demko has been over the last three years since he was drafted in the second round by the Canucks. Also, looking at the context of his rookie AHL season makes his struggles a bit more understandable.

First of all, Demko was 20 when the season began, making him one of the youngest goaltenders in the league. He was also playing behind one of the worst teams, as the Utica Comets struggled to score goals and struggled to defend, frequently hanging Demko out to dry.


Goaltenders take time to develop. Kevin Woodley once described it as a three-year process in the AHL and Demko is in the first year of that process.

Demko is a student of the game and you can expect a significant improvement next season. You even saw it over the course of the season. In 2016, Demko put up an .884 save percentage over his first 19 games. When 2017 rolled around, he improved to a .913 save percentage over his final 26 games.

His numbers likely would have been even better if he hadn’t gotten overworked towards the end of the season. With Jacob Markstrom injured, the Canucks called up Richard Bachman, leaving Demko to start the vast majority of the games, with Michael Garteig getting three spot starts in those two months.

Demko even started three games in three nights twice during that stretch, winning all but one of those six games and posting a .941 save percentage in two tough back-to-back-to-back situations. Demko may have had a tough, up-and-down season overall, but there was plenty to indicate he is still the Canucks’ goaltender of the future.

I understand that sports is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, but ignoring Demko’s stellar college career, where he set school records, won the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s best goaltender, and posted absurdly good numbers, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Demko was one of the top goaltending prospects in the world when he was drafted and nothing since should give anyone cause to knock him down any notches.

Michael DiPietro, who has tremendous athleticism and confidence, also has the potential to become a number one starter. The difference is Demko is a lot closer to fulfilling that potential, while DiPietro still has a long way to go and has a higher probability of falling short of reaching that potential.

DiPietro has a harder road to climb as an undersized goaltender, standing 6’0” to Demko’s 6’4” frame. In addition, as a goaltender that relies on his athleticism over his technique, he may find it harder to transition to the professional ranks.

To be fair, DiPietro is aware of his technical deficiencies. When I spoke to him at prospect development camp, he stressed how focussed he was on improving the technical side of his game so that his athleticism can then put him over the top. In a few years, he may be the same boat as Demko, adapting to the AHL and pushing for an NHL job.

For now, however, Demko is still the Canucks top goaltending prospect.