Thatcher Demko is making strides in his first full NHL season. The 23-year-old netminder currently leads all rookie goaltenders with an impressive .916 save percentage and 2.50 GAA in eight appearances.
Demko has delivered against some of the NHL's elite teams this season and is earning the right to more crease time. The San Diego native has made 30-plus saves in wins over St. Louis and Nashville - two strong teams in the Western Conference. He's also guided the Canucks to wins over Florida and San Jose and made 31 stops in a loss to the Jets.
The 6'4" netminder was taken 36th overall by the Canucks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and has carried over strong collegiate play to the professional level. Demko recorded a 62-26-10 record with a 2.08 GAA and .928 save percentage in three seasons with Boston College before turning pro.
Demko helped the Eagles advance to the NCAA Frozen four twice, was a finalist for the 2016 Hobey Baker Award and won the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA's most outstanding goaltender in 2016.
Demko carried that strong play from college to AHL Utica. In 107 games with the Comets, Demko posted a 55-36- 5 record with a 2.56 GAA and a .915%. He earned AHL all-star honours in 2017-18 and is the team's all-time leader in wins.
Demko appeared in nine games for the Canucks in 2018-19, posting a 4-3-1 record with a 2.81 GAA and a .913% save percentage. He was re-signed to a two-year deal by the team this offseason.
The young netminder made Canucks history against the Sabres last January when he became the first Canucks goalie to win each of his first two NHL games. There was plenty to like about Demko from that victory, but most importantly, it showed that he's a competitor. The Canucks were outshot 36-23 by Buffalo, and Demko kept them in it with several highlight-reel stops.
Now in his first full NHL season, Demko is showing more of the reasons why the Canucks drafted him at 36th overall in 2014.
Demko is reading the play at an elite level and playing with a soothing calmness that oozes confidence. He's tracking the puck very well this season and utilizing his large frame to his advantage.
In this sequence against the Avalanche, Demko is able to track the puck through traffic to wide-open forward Joonas Donskoi and extend his left leg to make an explosive pad save. With this impressive reading ability, Demko's butterfly style of play makes him very difficult to beat down low.
Video: COL@VAN: Demko stretches out to rob Donskoi with pad
One of Demko's best performances this season came against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. Demko made 34 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped all six shots in the shootout to help Vancouver to a 4-3 victory.
Demko's great improvement in his lateral movement and positional play was on display all game against the Blues. On this sequence, Demko once again reads the play very well and uses a strong push with his right skate to square up to the shooter and make the save.
Video: VAN@STL: Demko turns away Fabbri at the doorstep
Another example of Demko's improved positional play was his performance against the Panthers. In this sequence, he does't bite too hard on a fake point shot by Keith Yandle and is in great position stop a shot from the slot. Not only does he make the original save, but he's in perfect position to turn away the rebound attempt by Evgenii Dadonov. You aren't seeing Demko overcommit as he's done on occasions in the past. Instead, he's using his impressive wingspan and positional play to play a more structured game.
Video: FLA@VAN: Demko denies Dadonov twice in tight
Demko is off to a solid 5-2-1 start, and the wins certainly haven't come against easy opponents. A strong indicator of Demko's improved play this season is his .923 save percentage at even strength. That is among the top-20 in the NHL and a big leap from the .915 save percentage he had at even strength last season. Personal improvement seems to be a trend for Demko. The young American netminder improved his numbers in each full season at both the NCAA and AHL level. He's doing it again the highest level.
The NHL is trending towards being more tandem based. Teams are wanting to rest their starting goaltender for the playoffs and split the workload more evenly. Elite NHL goalies such as Braden Holtby, Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne have had some of their best playoff runs when they played the fewest amount of games in the regular season. The importance of being able to use two goalies in today's NHL is as crucial as ever. Demko has proven in NCAA and AHL stints that he's cable of handling a heavy workload.
Demko has shown plenty of promise in his young NHL career to date. As long as he continues his strong play and works on improving his consistency, Demko is going to continue challenging Jacob Markstrom for starts in the Vancouver goal crease.