It's Thatcher Demko time in Vancouver.
The Canucks 2014 2nd round pick has been plying his trade in the AHL for the past two and half seasons and is poised to make an impact on the big stage for the remainder of this season.
It was a tough start to the season for Demko, as he began the year with a concussion that was suffered in Canucks training camp. It resulted in him not starting his first game for the Comets until November 21st. He struggled a bit after winning his first two starts, but has since been a big part of why the Comets have climbed up to 3rd in the North Division.
In 16 appearances with the Comets this year, Demko was 8-5-1 with 2.58 GAA and 0.911 SV%. With those numbers, Demko currently sits 11th in save percentage and 15th in goals-against average among goalies that have played a minimum of 720 minutes. He finished last season with the second-best save percentage, 0.922 SV%, in the AHL.
Demko has looked much more confident and collected in his last few starts in the AHL this campaign. He has been effectively using his large frame to give shooters minimal space to shoot at and directing the puck out of danger for second and third chances. If there have been any breakdowns, Demko has been showing off his acrobatic abilities to make those flashy recovery saves. He's had quite a few gif worthy saves in the AHL this season already.
Video: PRACTICE | Thatcher Demko on Call-Up
It was clear that there was a bit of rust to his game during his slight struggles in late November and early December, but he has taken those noticeable steps forward with each passing game and looks ready to take on NHL shooters.
It's obviously been a tough start of the season for him, recovering from the concussion - yet he appears to be mentally ready to make the leap to the next level.
Now it's just a matter of getting some consistent playing time in the NHL.
Last season, Demko did appear in one NHL game and was victorious in a 5-4 overtime win over Columbus. It was a learning experience for the netminder as the team had a 4-1 lead with four minutes left in the game. Columbus was able to storm back and force overtime before Alex Edler potted the winner to give Demko his first NHL win.
Goaltenders can thrive at the AHL and junior levels, but making that jump up in quality of competition can be something that takes time to adjust to. Which is what it is about for Demko in the second half of this season.
Incumbent goaltender Jacob Markstrom has been fantastic over the last month, giving the team a chance to win every night. That means there isn't a huge expectation placed on Demko.
He can come in and be the backup and get games in where he can succeed. If there are any hiccups along the way, there will be time to work with the coaching staff to breakdown and adjust for the next appearance.
Demko is a noted student of the game, always breaking down his game and his opponent's tendencies. The light schedule in January for the Canucks and then a well-planned rotation will allow Demko to really soak in everything he can and build on each day.
The San Diego born netminder started his collegiate career with a 0.919 SV% in 2013-14, followed that up with a 0.925% SV% in 2014-15, and then closed it out with a 0.935 SV% in 2015-16. That same progression was seen in his AHL career with 0.907 SV% in 2016-17 and then 0.922% last season. Obviously, his numbers have dipped a bit this season but given the late start, it's reasonable to expect that with a larger sample size that his numbers last season and this year would've been closer together.
Goaltenders will always take an unexpected path in their development. Some will get there quickly and others will develop their game over time. It's clear that Demko works on his game every day and tries to be better the next time that he suits up.
There may be some tough outings along the way, but Canucks fans are excited to see what the American netminder can do and are eagerly anticipating his first NHL start of the 2018-19 season.