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Thatcher Demko moving in right direction

One year after hip surgery, Canucks goaltending prospect has more mobility than ever

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks goaltending prospect Thatcher Demko gained new levels of mobility after recovering from hip surgery last summer, and it showed. 

Able to move freely for the first time in his college career, Demko went 27-8-4 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in his junior season at Boston College. He had 10 shutouts, breaking the school record set by former Canucks goalie Cory Schneider a decade earlier, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey and won the Mike Richter Award as the top NCAA goaltender when he led the Eagles to the Frozen Four. 

Demko, selected in the second round (No. 36) by the Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft, turned pro by signing on April 20, and said he was a different goaltender after having his hip repaired.

"I tweaked my style to fit what I wasn't able to do [before surgery], and when I got back on the ice [after surgery], my entire style changed," Demko said. "I was able to be more on top of pucks, be a little bit quicker and I was just more mobile from different positions, where previously if I got into certain positions I could get stuck and just couldn't move. I feel quicker now. I feel more flexible. I feel like there is not a shot I can't get to if there is a rebound."

That athletic ability was on full display at the Canucks' recent development camp, with Demko providing a handful of highlight reel moments, including an out-of-nowhere left pad stop to deny an apparent backdoor tap-in. 

Video: Thatcher Demko gets mic'd up at development camp

"His flexibility is better. He can make those desperation saves now," Canucks goaltending coach Dan Cloutier said. 

As Demko prepares for his first pro season at the age of 20, the one thing more impressive than his newfound mobility and flexibility is what he has done with it. Demko consciously tried to move less last season, fully aware his eventual transition to the professional game would require more reliance on moving his 6-foot-4 frame around the crease more efficiently, and less on the raw athleticism others have praised.

"The more mobile my body is, the less I have to move, if that makes sense," Demko said.

It does for goaltenders that understand early arrival to proper position keeps the play coming at them, that over-aggressive positioning makes it harder to beat passes and leaves some chasing the puck instead of letting it come to them. Developing that understanding is usually a part of the transition from college, where most play outside the edges of their crease, to the pro ranks, where the trend has been toward deeper initial positioning. 

It's a philosophy Roland Melanson stuck firmly to during a six-season tenure as Canucks goaltending coach that included the development of Schneider, Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. Demko will be exposed first hand to that ideology with Utica of the American Hockey League, now that Melanson is Vancouver's goaltending development coach, effectively swapping jobs with Cloutier this season. That Demko got a head start on the process in his junior season at Boston College comes as little surprise, in part because Cloutier talked to him about it during development camp last summer, but also because of Demko studies the position.

That includes keeping notebooks on NHL goalies, something that started any time he watched hockey growing up and evolved to include video sessions with Boston College assistant coach Mike Ayers.

"I study the game quite a bit," Demko said. "I love watching NHL Network, and it's just always been part of my nature to look at the highlights and see 'he did this here, or he didn't do that there,' and pick things up as you go."

That analytical mentality continued when Demko was the No. 3 goalie for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia.

"That was more locker room etiquette," Demko said. "It's a lot different. We're going out to dinner and Matt Hendricks [of the Edmonton Oilers] is facetiming his two twins -- you don't see that in college. Guys have families and other responsibilities outside of the rink. It's not like college, where you are in the locker room together, you go back home together, you go to eat together, you go to class together. So you learn about being a rookie, and watching your boundaries."

With Markstrom signed for the next four seasons and veteran Ryan Miller under contract for one more, Demko's lessons will continue with Utica this season. Even with Miller set for unrestricted free agency next summer and no backup plan in place yet, Cloutier said the Canucks will not rush their top puck-stopping prospect, singling out Demko's need to get smoother and more efficient in his movements, and pointing to the three-year development curves for Lack and Schneider in the AHL. When Demko is ready, Cloutier isn't worried about him adjusting to life in a Vancouver market that has traditionally been tough on its goaltenders.

"He has already played in a big school, in the big tournaments, in front of big crowds, as 'the guy,'" Cloutier said. "Playing in this market is different, but he's already a mature kid and I think he's got the makeup to handle it."

That includes already understanding there will be more time -- and adjustments -- required to get to the League, no matter how promising the "new" Demko looks already.

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