Minnesota Wild Should Say "No" to Thatcher Demko

Not to take anything away from Demko, but the Wild's prospect pool needs other upgrades. - Bruce Bennett

While Thatcher Demko is a talented goaltender prospect, the Wild should look elsewhere in the draft.

Thatcher Demko is the best goaltending prospect in this year's NHL Draft. He's a big guy at 6'4", and he pairs that with athleticism and quickness. Despite being the youngest player in the NCAA, Demko got rave reviews for his poise in the net, something a lot of young goaltenders can struggle with. Furthermore, Demko had very good stats for Boston College, only two freshmen in the country played as many games and had a higher save percentage than Demko.

While Boston College has a solution in net for next season, the Minnesota Wild have one of the most unclear goalie situations in the league. The Wild re-signed Niklas Backstrom to a 3-year deal last offseason, only to have him struggle mightily with injuries. Josh Harding was once the Wild's long-term solution in net, but Multiple Sclerosis is in the process of robbing him of a career in hockey. And Darcy Kuemper is young, and while he performed admirably, he ended the year with concussion issues.

Any outside attempt at solidifying the Wild's goaltending woes is hindered by the fact that these three goalies will have one-way contracts next season. The Wild will need to trade one of them (Niklas Backstrom the most likely to depart) in order to even have another option.

With so many questions in net for the Wild, it would seem like a natural fit for the Wild to draft Thatcher Demko, who is widely considered to be a first-round caliber pick, with their 18th overall pick in Friday's draft.

The Wild would do well to resist that temptation.

This is no slight against Demko, the San Diego, California (That's right!) native. He's done everything that you can ask from a goalie in his draft year- stay healthy, succeed against quality competition, and show maturity. Do not think I am taking that away from him.

But goaltenders are the trickiest position to project in the NHL. There's a reason why there are so few goaltenders selected in the first round- they're not safe bets to become superstars in the NHL. Let's look at the goaltenders selected in the first round from 1999-2008:

Goaltender (Drafting Team)

Draft Year

Pick #

Career GP

Career Sv%

Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT)

2003

1

531

0.910

Cam Ward (CAR)

2002

25

461

0.910

Kari Lehtonen (ATL)

2002

2

445

0.915

Carey Price (MON)

2005

5

369

0.917

Rick DiPietro (NYI)

2000

1

318

0.902

Semyon Varlamov (WAS)

2006

23

210

0.917

Tuukka Rask (TOR)

2005

21

196

0.928

Devan Dubnyk (EDM)

2004

14

173

0.909

Pascal Leclaire (CBJ)

2001

8

173

0.904

Cory Schneider (VAN)

2004

26

143

0.925

Jonathan Bernier (LAK)

2006

11

117

0.918

Al Montoya (NYR)

2004

6

97

0.910

Dan Blackburn (NYR)

2001

10

63

0.894

Hannu Toivonen (BOS)

2002

29

61

0.890

Jason Bacashihua (DAL)

2001

26

38

0.897

Adam Munro (CHI)

2001

29

17

0.887

Leland Irving (CAL)

2006

26

13

0.902

Maxime Ouellet (PHI)

1999

22

12

0.903

Marek Schwarz (STL)

2004

17

6

0.809

Brian Finley (NSH)

1999

6

4

0.851

Riku Helenius (TBL)

2006

15

1

1.000

Brent Krahn (CAL)

2000

9

1

0.667

Ari Ahonen (NJD)

1999

27

0

N/A

Chet Pickard (NSH)

2008

18

0

N/A

Thomas McCollum (DET)

2008

30

0

N/A

While even first-round defensemen and forwards carry risk that they will never materialize into everyday NHL players, goaltender seems to be an especially risky and volatile position. Out of 25 first-round goaltender picks, I would say that only Price and Rask are franchise goaltenders. Of the remaining first-round goaltenders, only Schneider, Lehtonen, Bernier, and Varlamov able to post a >.914 Sv% over 100 games.

Well, just because Hannu Toivonen didn't work out doesn't mean Demko won't, right? For the sake of argument, let's assume that Demko is going to be at least a Fleury or Ward-level player. Even if we allow for that, it's unlikely that Demko will be up anytime soon. Goaltenders often take a longer time to develop, and the possibility that Demko wouldn't be NHL-ready in 3 or 4 years is very realistic. The likelihood of him being the solution to the Wild's goaltending problems anytime soon is very slim.

Not to mention that the Wild's organizational needs are elsewhere. Kuemper has shown at every level that he has a future as an NHL goaltender, earning the confidence of the Wild when they traded Matt Hackett instead of him for Jason Pominville. Johan Gustafsson had a decent season playing behind a terrible Iowa Wild team last year. Not to mention that next year, the bad goaltending situation will disappear for the Wild, leaving them flexibility if neither Kuemper of Gustafsson work out.

A more pressing need for the Minnesota Wild are forwards with offensive upside. Picking Demko at 18- or even trading down to pick him in the 20s- means that the Wild will miss out on a guy like Kevin Fiala, Robby Fabbri, Josh Ho-Sang, David Pastrnak, Sonny Milano, or Ivan Barbashev. It's quite possible that any of those forwards could be available to Minnesota at 18, and likely that any of them would immediately be considered the most skilled Wild forward prospect. They would all fill huge needs for the Wild.

Thatcher Demko could definitely become a good goaltender in the NHL, but drafting him represents too much risk for the Wild, at the cost of a safer, more immediate return for the Wild at a position of need. The obvious play here is for the Wild to pass on Demko.

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