Jacob Markstrom wants to show the Vancouver Canucks they chose wisely.
In a market where goaltending is almost always a hot topic, the club traded fan favourite Eddie Lack to the Carolina Hurricanes at the NHL draft, putting its faith in Markstrom to carry the load behind veteran netminder Ryan Miller this season and beyond.
“It obviously feels great that they believe in me,” the 25-year-old Swede said recently. “I definitely want to prove that they (made) the right decision. I want to prove to myself and everyone that I can be a good goalie at this level.”
The only piece remaining from the trade that sent Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers in March 2014, Markstrom has an underwhelming 13-28-5 record with a 3.19 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage in 50 career NHL games.
But it was his performance leading the Utica Comets all the way to the AHL’s Calder Cup final last season that convinced Vancouver it was the right time to send Lack on his way.
“He’s tightened up,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said of Markstrom. “He’s ready to play in the NHL and we’re hoping we can develop him into a No. 1 goalie at some point.”
Lack shouldered much of the load in the second half of last season and led Vancouver to the playoffs after Miller went down with a knee injury. With the Canucks trailing their first-round series 3-1 to the Calgary Flames, Miller replaced Lack in the crease and won Game 5 before Vancouver bowed out in Game 6.
“In a perfect world we would like to see Ryan play 55 to 60 games and Jacob the other 22 to 25 games,” said Benning. “That will depend on how they’re playing and injuries and all that. It’s always been our philosophy that we want two real good goalies so in case one of them goes down the other one can carry the load.”
Canucks forward Daniel Sedin and a number of other teammates skated with the six-foot-six 196-pound Markstrom before training camp got underway in Prince George, B.C., and said he’s in good form.
“I think he might surprise a lot of people,” said Sedin. “He’s going to give Ryan a good fight. We’re happy for him and excited to see what he can do.”
Markstrom said his preparations didn’t change for this season, adding that he’s ready to finally show he belongs in the NHL on a full-time basis.
“You’re not going to get anything for free in this league and at this level,” he said. “It’s a great league and there’s a lot of good goalies.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press