In an era when goal-scoring has significantly increased, we’ve seen some spectacular goaltending from a handful of players. Andrei Vasilevskiy is having another Vezina-caliber season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Marc-Andre Fleury has bounced back big time for the Vegas Golden Knights, and Philipp Grubauer has been lights out for the Colorado Avalanche.
However, in the last month, no goaltender has been more integral to his team’s success than Thatcher Demko has been for the Vancouver Canucks, going 8-3 over his last 11 starts and bringing the team within striking distance of a playoff position.
At only 25 years old, Demko is still entering the prime of his career. At the beginning of the season, he split time with newly-signed Brayden Holtby. As the season progressed, however, Demko quickly took over the Canucks’ crease as their starter. Although there isn’t a lot of history to go on, there’s enough evidence to say he’s among the best in the NHL.
Demko’s Rising Confidence
In his NHL career, Demko has only started 62 games in the regular season (and four games in the postseason), but with each passing start, he has become more confident and comfortable in goal. These past two seasons, he has seen the most action, and his numbers have improved across the board.
Last year, in 27 starts, Demko went 13-10-2 with a .905 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.06 goals-against average (GAA). In just two fewer starts this season, he has seen his stats rise to a .917 SV% and a GAA of 2.77. His record doesn’t differ all that much from 2019-20, 12-12-1 with one shutout, but his GSAA (goals saved above average) went from a -3.7 to a 7.7.
What this shows is Demko is now more comfortable under pressure, with higher quality and a higher volume of shots thrown his way. Of all goaltenders this season, only two have faced more shots: Connor Hellebuyck and Kevin Lankinen, both of which have similar numbers (Lankinen a .921 SV%, Hellebuyck a .917 SV%).
But it’s not just the GAA and SV%, it’s the importance Demko has on Vancouver winning games. Demko owns a 5.9 GPS (goalie points share), which outlines the number of points contributed by a player due to his play in goal. Across the league, Demko is tied for fourth in that category with Grubauer, putting him ahead of the likes of Fleury (5.4 GSP), Semyon Varlamov (5.2 GPS), Jacob Markstrom (3.9 GPS), and Carey Price (3.3 GPS).
Vancouver may have taken a step back this season, but Demko has taken a step forward despite the increased workload and pressure he’s received.
In the Bubble
Yes, it was only four games (and only three starts), but when Demko entered the bubble in the 2020 postseason, he left his mark. During Canucks’ second-round series against the Golden Knights, Demko went 2-1 while relinquishing just two goals. He stopped 128 of 130 shots and was brilliant, posting an 8.8 GSAA, an early indication of his high ceiling.
Obviously, that level of play can’t be sustained over a career (though never say never). But the idea that Demko has the potential to go on stretches, specifically in the postseason, and look virtually unbeatable, is what the Canucks are hoping for.
Miller Praises Demko
As the league (mainly in the North Division) starts to notice Demko’s rise, his teammates haven’t been shy about singing his praises. J.T. Miller was asked on the Dropping The Gloves Podcast if he thinks Demko is underrated.
“I don’t know about underrated,” Miller answered. “But I know he’s really good, and we all know he’s really good… He’s super competitive, practices really hard, and gives us a chance to win every game, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
While a player will rarely speak poorly about their teammates, it’s the compete-level the Cancuks are playing with, knowing he’s in net that’s been the biggest sign of their appreciation for the young netminder.
Can He Demonstrate This Over a Full Season?
That’s the big question. Demko has never played more than 27 games in a season (or 31 if you count last season’s playoff games), but he’s on pace to start more games than he has in any season. He’ll also have a chance to start many more after signing a five-year contract extension worth an average annual value (AAV) of $5 million.
We’ve now seen multiple instances (the bubble last year & his last 11 starts) in which Demko has gone on an impressive stretch of play to elevate not only himself but his team as well, despite not having the same firepower upfront as some of the other goalies mentioned earlier (Vancouver ranks 22nd in goals scored this season). He’s started 11 of the last 12 games for Vancouver and looks like he’ll continue to see the majority of starts down the stretch as the Canucks push for a playoff spot with less than 20 games remaining.
It might not be the same body of work other elite goaltenders have accumulated, but it’s clear that Demko has entered that conversation as one of the best goaltenders in the game today.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.