Is Thatcher Demko (VAN) a No-Go in Vancouver?
This statement is two things – a bit of a play on words (har-dee-har-har), but also the worst fears of many a Vancouver Canuck fan.
With the case of Jimmy Vesey making the headlines as a potential beneficiary of the CBA loophole involving drafted players as NCAA seniors, speculation has abounded. With Demko, quite possibly the most highly praised NHL goaltending prospect, unsigned to a pro contract, this concern is a legitimate one.
Should Demko opt to return to Boston College for his senior year, this would potentially open Pandora's Box for Vancouver faithful. Should he remain unsigned during the year, we will have a replay of what we've seen with Vesey this season.
Will he sign? Will he not sign? If he doesn't, where will he go?
Demko signing elsewhere would be the worst-case scenario for the Canucks. With Ryan Miller in the twilight of his career, and Jakob Markstrom no spring chicken any longer, they've been relying on Demko to solidify their goaltending for years to comer. He's been the light at the end of the tunnel between the pipes for Vancouver – of that there can be no question.
Breaking Cory Schneider’s shutout record with an absolutely sensational collegiate year, Demko represents a legitimate blue-chip netminder. Potentially losing that kind of asset, even if a team trades for his rights if Vancouver decides to scrounge leading up to Aug. 15, 2017, they lose. Period.
Increasing speculation has been Demko's addition to the U.S. world championship squad this week, putting him in very elite company. A solid performance would only increase his value – and that value may exceed a rookie maximum, should he deign to choose so. Whether or not he will play remains in question, but it's the "what-if" that has people wondering.
Further compounding the situation, and fully engaging in full-out conspiracy mode, are the needs of other NHL franchises heading into 2017 free agency. While big changes are always possible, and in some cases likely, between this day and that, teams like Toronto, Buffalo, Calgary, Edmonton, and to a lesser degree the New York Islanders, could prove enticing as potential destinations.
Though nowhere near as enticing as the San Jose Sharks.
Demko was born in San Diego, home of the Sharks’ AHL affiliate. He would be provided a hometown environment where he could develop in a familiar setting with familial support.
After some seasoning, he could walk into a fortuitous arrangement with a core involving names like Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and bluechippers like Timo Meier and Jeremy Roy – but nothing of substance between the pipes. With the likelihood of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau having their salaries come off the books in relatively due order, Demko would even get paid well.
While this may seem conspiratorial, it is in no way illogical – and that's what may have the Canucks sweating.
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I wrote back on Jan. 24 about the acquisition of Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR) by the Niagara Ice Dogs, and the potential impact it may have on their run towards the Memorial Cup.
While it was somewhat boastful on my part, and Nedeljkovic looked horrid at times since then, he has been exactly as predicted by this scout.
This week, the Ice Dogs completed a sweep of the heavily favoured Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL Playoffs. This unlikely eventuality was lead by the rock-solid goaltending performance of Nedeljkovic. Despite a 6-5 barnburner in Game Two of the series, the Hurricanes’ prospect managed to keep the powerful Frontenacs to two goals or less for the rest of the series.
Most exciting about this is the fact that the IceDogs will not face the Barrie Colts, led by the equally stellar netminding of Mackenzie Blackwood (NJD), in the next round.
While we all love the subplots to any great series, this may be the best around.
It will be a classic goaltender duel with a pair of clubs that certainly have no issue bulging the twine. Names from Niagara including Brendan Perlini (ARZ), Josh Ho-Sang (NYI), and Vince Dunn (STL) show the kind of power the IceDogs bring, while Barrie counters with the offensife wizardy of Kevin Labanc (SJ) and Andrew Mangiapane (CGY) coupled with the likes of defender Rasmuss Anderson (CGY).
While the entire CHL playoffs is exciting, and many eyes naturally draw towards the likes of the London Knights as they (likely) take on the Erie Otters, this may still be the main attraction.
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While a lot of people talk about the top-tier players leading into a draft, I prefer to take a few minutes each post to talk about the guys who fly under the radar. The guys who will hear their name called on Saturday during draft weekend, and not Friday night.
I've picked a few names for that this week.
The first is London Knight Victor Mete (2016). While slightly undersized, Mete has a great head for the game and fantastic skill to boot. While not an imposing force physically, Mete is greatly effective on the rush and in an offensive role. A club will see this kind of of offensive acumen as a prototypical "puck-moving defenseman," and I project him to find his name called midway through the second round.
Speaking of London, lets talk about Cliff Pu. Slated to land in a middle to late round, Pu doesn't bring elite talent to the table. Recently in a game against Sault-St Marie in the playoffs, Pu found himself placed in a more offensive role – and was unable to work with the great ice provided.
However, that is not his game. A team drafting Pu should recognize his likely role at the pro level – a hard-working, moderately talented player who does everything well but nothing great. He can give a team that multi-dimensional game they all need. If he is still available in the fourth round, I run to the podium.
Lastly, I'd like to mention Kyle Maksimovich (2016) of the Erie Otters. An undersized forward at a diminuitive 5-7 and 160 pounds, in him I see a sparkplug. A player who has significant boom-bust potential, and may be nothing, but may be a real special something.
While it's a longshot, as I see him potentially having his name called late in the draft, because he's the type of player I think can blossom. While by no means a certainty, and there is a great deal of room to grow his skillset, Maksimovich gets hit and seems to be better for it. It is a skill that many prospects, and professional players, could do well to emulate.
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