Canucks’ top goalie prospect is back with the Canucks, probably for good
TORONTO — Still a little groggy from a pre-game nap, Thatcher Demko tried to ignore his phone buzzing with text messages.
The Vancouver Canucks’ prized goalie prospect saw the team had just traded its backup netminder, a move potentially paving the way for his promotion to the NHL.
But the Utica Comets were playing in a few hours and that required the 23-year-old’s full attention.
It was only after his 31-save performance in a 4-2 victory that the magnitude of the deal that shipped Anders Nilsson to the Ottawa Senators began to sink in.
Demko would be joining the Canucks and leaving the American Hockey League behind — hopefully for good.
“I’ve just got to make the most of it,” the 36th pick in the 2014 NHL draft said of his opportunity Saturday before Vancouver took on the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I was down in the AHL for 2 1/2 years. I want to make sure I don’t go back there. I want to be up here and be an impact player.
“I know that’s going to take some work, and I’m ready to work. (I’m) excited to get things going.”
Recalled by the Canucks on Friday, the San Diego, Calif., native was 8-5-1 in Utica, N.Y., in 2018-19 with a .911 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average after sitting out nearly two months with a concussion.
In 107 career games as a member of the Comets, Demko had a 55-35-12 record with three shutouts to go along with a .915 save percentage and 2.56 GAA.
“We’ve been patient with Demmer,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green, who was in charge in Utica when Demko first turned pro. “We’ve said it from Day 1 that we want to make sure we do right by him. He’s matured as a goalie, as a person. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Demko.
“I believe in him. I think he’s going to be a good goalie in the league. This is the right time to bring him up, so I’m happy that we made the move.”
Demko played one NHL game towards the tail end of last season, making 30 saves in a 5-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, but won’t be asked to carry a heavy load in Vancouver.
Jacob Markstrom has settled things in the Canucks’ crease — at least in the short term. The 28-year-old Swede was 8-1-0 with a .943 save percentage and a 1.77 GAA in December to get Vancouver back in the playoff hunt following the club’s miserable November.
Having just wrapped up a six-game road trip, the Canucks play just six more times in January — all at home — so Demko should get his chance behind a rested team, whenever that moment comes.
“You’re never going to ask a young goalie to come in and be a saviour,” Green said. “But the natural progression for Thatcher is to come in and start to play some more games.
“We’ve got some down time, we don’t have a lot of back-to-back games. We can pick and choose when we want to play him, and nothing’s going to be out of necessity.”
The six-foot-four, 192-pound Demko said while he thought about the NHL as he rode the buses in the AHL, waiting for his chance wasn’t difficult thanks to the veterans around him with the Comets.
“I just don’t feel like being grumpy about the situation is going to help anyone,” he said. “You can see some guys are a little bit negative about their situation and things don’t really work out for them. That’s something I’ve been working on a lot.
“I think it’s going to end up benefiting me in the long run.”
But like any athlete, the Boston College product has already gone through mental ups and downs.
“A big part of pro hockey is not getting pushed too far one way or another,” he said. “There were times where I was maybe thinking I wasn’t as good as people were saying or vice versa. That’s just the ebbs and flows of pro hockey.
“Last year when I got my first (NHL) game, I felt like I was maybe ready to get a look. Coming into this season, just wasn’t really sure what was going to happen.
“I tried working hard and waiting for that call.”
A call that finally came.