Canucks 2022-23 Report Cards: Thatcher Demko

Welcome to the Vancouver Canucks 2022-23 report card series. In this series, we at The Hockey Writers look back at each Canucks player from the past season, break down how their campaign went, and assign a letter grade reflective of their overall performance. This edition will focus on goaltender Thatcher Demko.

A Challenging Start to the Season

After solidifying himself as one of the top goaltenders in the league during the 2021-22 season, Demko had a rough start to the season. He won just one of his first ten games and didn’t look like himself, allowing three or more goals in each start. Let’s be clear, the Canucks’ defence was awful and wasn’t making life easy for him, but from watching his movement in the crease, it appeared as though he may not have fully recovered from the lower-body surgery he had during the offseason.

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

During the second half of November, Demko had a slight improvement in his statistics going from a .874 save percentage (SV%) over his first ten games to a .901 SV% over the next five. Unfortunately, that would all come to a screeching halt as he left a Dec. 1, 2022, contest against the Florida Panthers with a groin injury and wouldn’t return for just under three months. The injury also left Vancouver in a bind that they never fully recovered from, as they had to rely on Spencer Martin and Collin Delia to tend the net behind one of the worst defences in the entire league.

Related: 5 Reasons the Canucks Missed the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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In the end, Demko went 3-10-2 over his first 15 games of the season with a .883 SV% and a 3.93 goals-against average (GAA). From an analytics perspective, he had a high danger save percentage of .818% at even strength, while on the penalty kill, his goals saved above expected (GSAx) of minus-7.21 was the worst in the league at the time of his injury. Overall, it is hard to imagine a worst possible start to his season which was a contributing factor in the Canucks once again missing the playoffs.

Demko Return From Injury

Once Demko finally returned from his injury, he looked like the goalie Canuck fans expected from the start of the campaign. He won 11 of his final 17 games and played the sixth most minutes of any goaltender from Feb. 27, 2023, to the end of the season. During that stretch, he also posted a .918 SV%, a GAA of 2.52, and made 33 saves in a win against the Chicago Blackhawks for his only shutout of the year.

Demko’s analytics also returned to what was expected over the final 17 games. From Feb. 27, 2023, his 6.83 GSAx at even strength was ranked 11th in the league, while his 385 even-strength saves ranked fifth during that time frame. He also showed why he is so valuable on the penalty kill as he finished tied for first with Connor Hellebuyck in shorthanded saves.

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The most important aspect of his return was that he finally looked healthy and mobile. He was back to making highlight reel saves, and the team looked more confident with him back in the net. While there was the occasional bad game, it was clear he had returned to his 2021-22 form as the season came to a close.

Pros & Cons of Demko’s Return

Now that the season is over, we can fully assess the pros and cons of Demko’s return late in the season. Starting with the pros, he got a chance to play in head coach Rick Tocchet’s system prior to the 2023-24 campaign while learning the tendencies of the new defencemen the Canucks brought in at the end of the season. He also can now enter the offseason confident that he is fully healthy and train without restrictions.

The con to his return is that he played so well that the Canucks missed out on a potential top-five pick. There was no reason he should have played 17 of the final 23 games, and it may cost Vancouver when it comes to the draft. Yes, he wants to play every game possible, but the organization should have had the foresight to limit his games to ensure they got the best possible draft spot and to avoid the potential of yet another injury.

Final Grade for Thatcher Demko: C+

Grading Demko this season is hard because he essentially had two seasons in one. If the grade was split, the first half would be a D while the second half would be an A-, which is why the C+ grade seems like a healthy compromise. All that matters now is that he is going into the offseason healthy, confident, and ready to return to his previous Vezina calibre play to start the 2023-24 campaign.