Jacob Markstrom is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career.
The Swedish netminder is 10-3-1 with a .925 save percentage since the beginning of December - ranking him among the NHL's best. Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens (.926) is the only NHL goalie with a better save percentage in that span (14 GP minimum). Golden Knights' Marc-Andre Fleury and San Jose's Martin Jones are the only two goaltenders with more wins.
Markstrom's impressive play has the Canucks sitting at 47 points through 47 games this season and contending for playoff position in the Western Conference.
Markstrom's competitive nature is driving his success. He's always been a battler and it's starting to pay off. Traded to the Canucks from the Florida Panthers for Roberto Luongo in March of 2014, Markstrom didn't get a chance to be a full-time starter until the 2017-18 campaign. In that up-and-down season with the Canucks, Markstrom posted a 23-26-7 record with a .912 save percentage and 2.71 GAA.
Approaching the All-Star break, Markstrom is just five wins shy of matching his career high and is on pace for his busiest year yet. The 28-year-old is facing an onslaught of action and is holding his ground. Through 34 contests, Markstrom has already faced 1049 shots. Only six other NHL goaltenders have faced more rubber. That's even more significant when you factor in that the Canucks have been outshot in 10 of Markstrom's 18 wins thus far. He's showing the ability to rise to the occasion and secure important victories.
At 6' 6", 206 lbs, Markstrom is a tall netminder who can take away a lot of the net. He's a strong butterfly goalie with great technique. He's capable of battling, denying second chances and never giving up on the play. On numerous occasions this season, we've seen him use these traits to make some great saves.
Markstrom's flexibility and excellent awareness is demonstrated in this 2-on-1 situation against the Islanders. The Vancouver goaltender reads the play very well, tracking Leo Komarov down the left wing and coming across to deny Valtteri Filppula in tight. Markstrom's ability to read the play and take away the bottom of the net has been highlighted in recent months.
Video: VAN@NYI: Markstrom denies Filppula with sliding stop
In a December game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Markstrom also showcased some great flexibility to extend the right pad and rob forward Boone Jenner on a breakaway.
When the team welcomed the Florida Panthers to Rogers Arena in January, Markstrom powered Vancouver to victory with a 23-save performance. There may have not been a better save than his robbery of Nick Bjugstad in the 3rd period. Markstrom stopped the original point shot and then showed great awareness to track the rebound to Bjugstad at the side. The Swede once again showed off his determination and flexibility, stretching out to rob the Panthers' forward with the glove.
What is there to credit for Markstrom's impressive play of late? Could it be the emergence of rookie and fellow countryman Elias Pettersson? The youthful energy surrounding the team has brought a great atmosphere into Rogers Arena. Is it as simple as that?
Perhaps it's the fact Markstrom is the undisputed No.1 goaltender in Vancouver. He's no longer the backup to Ryan Miller. He's no longer battling with Anders Nilsson for starts. He's the guy the Canucks are counting on and the guy the team is going to need to continue delivering if they hope to make the playoffs. He's valued and being given big responsibility. That goes a long way for a goaltender's confidence.
Markstrom also started with a new goalie coach at the beginning of the season. Ian Clark was brought back into Vancouver's organization this offseason after he spent seven years with the Columbus Blue Jackets and helped transform a struggling Sergei Bobrovsky into a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. Clark is a Vancouver native and was a member of the Canucks coaching staff from 2002-10. He also worked on Team Canada's coaching staff at the World Junior Championships from 2003-06, winning gold in 2005 and 2006. He has a proven track record and is consistently working with Markstrom to improve his game.
Markstrom is tied for sixth among all NHL goalies in wins. He ranks fifth in minutes played with a whopping 2,057:19 TOI thus far. As a result, the Canucks are in a four-way tie for the final Wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
A goaltender can only take an NHL team so far. What teams and fans often desire is someone in their crease who they can believe in. Someone who can give their team a chance at success. Markstrom's recent play is winning fans over and helping the Canucks keep pace in the playoff race.
You might not see Markstrom on the highlight reel too often, but he's giving a team that's vying for a playoff spot a legitimate shot at winning every night. There's not much more you can ask for out of your starting netminder.