AHL Utica Comets Goaltender Markstrom Impresses In Early Season


The road to the National Hockey League for Vancouver Canucks “prospect” goaltender Jacob Markstrom has been a challenging effort to say the least. The Gavle, Sweden native has been bounced around in the transitions of “better caliber”, or “franchise” goaltenders who have a better chance to start, over Markstrom’s skill level.

The 6’ 3” Markstrom was selected by the Florida Panthers in the second round (31st overall) in 2008. While playing in the Swedish Elite League, Markstrom played for Brynas IF Gavle team appearing in 85 games in the SEL as he started to develop like so many other great goaltenders from Sweden did. When you think of goaltenders from Sweden’s past, like Lundqvist, Gustavsson, Lack, Fasth, or Svedberg its was apparent that Markstrom was progressing nicely in his development, which scouts really starting to notice improvements in his game. Markstrom finished the SEL with a career goals against of 2.50 and career save percentage of .910, and eight shutouts.

Markstrom signed an entry-level contract with the Panthers on June 1, 2010, and was sent to the teams American Hockey League affiliate, in Rochester New York to continue development with the Americans team. His time in the AHL was not too kindly to him in his first season of North American Hockey. In 37 games Markstrom went 16-20-1 with goals against of 2.98, while suffering through a knee injury, forcing him to have surgery.

Staying with the Panthers organization in the AHL from the 2010-11 to 2013-14 was a work in progress while trying to compete for a roster spot with names like Tomas Vokoun, Scott Clemmensen, or Jose Theodore. Playing for the Rochester Americans, and the San Antonio Rampage (both FLA AHL affiliate), Markstrom appeared in 131 games totaling a record of 61-58-7, a 2.60 goals against, and save percentage of .918, while compiling 7 shutouts.

Markstrom’s NHL stats with the Panthers are not much better as Markstrom struggled to impress General Manager Dale Tallon and the Panthers organization with a 12-27-5 record in the NHL. Markstrom was the odd-man out of the teams future plans when the team made a trade, one day before the “trade deadline” ended. On March 4, 2014, the Canucks acquired Roberto Luongo and prospect Steven Anthony in exchange for Center Shawn Mattias, and Markstom, who were heading to the Vancouver Canucks, and for Markstrom, a fresh start with a new set of goals to revitalize a projected high potential young career.

After the trade, Markstrom joined the Canucks team and played in four games of the 2013-14 season going 1-2-3 with a struggling 3.00 goals against and .868 save percentage to end the year. With an uncertain future in the goal crease, the Canucks had some major discussing to do if the organization could be competitive with a young and unproven Lack, and career rattled Markstrom. The Canucks made their choice who was going to be the starter for the 2014-15 season when they went out and landed former Buffalo Sabres, and last seasons St. Louis Blues goaltender Ryan Miller via free-agent, signing on July 1, 2014, inking a three-year $18 million contract, pushing Millers outstanding career resume to the top of the list for the job in the crease. Once again Markstrom was the the guy to demote to the AHL, while the Canucks go with Lack as the backup for the team.

This summers offseason was important for him to work hard and prove to the Canucks management that he has the skills and mentality to be a starting goaltender in the NHL someday. Markstrom took his demotion as another chance, and went to the AHL’s Utica Comets with a remarkable attitude, and focus on his training to be ready for the upcoming 2014-15 season, His hard work in the American League has been very impressive to start.

The Utica Comets are entering their second season in the AHL, going 35-32-5 in their first season, but this season has certainly started better than expected, with the team playing in seven games so far with a 5-1-1-0 record good enough for 11 points, trailing the Western Conference leader the Milwaukee Admirals who have 12 points in six games. The Comets are playing well, but one of the major reasons for the early success is the play of goaltender Markstrom, and his praises are well deserved.

In four games played in Utica, Markstrom is 4-0-0 with a stingy 0.25 goals against and a nasty .991 save percentage, while compiling three shutouts in that time. His progress has been stella in the minors and should expect a bulk of the work in the crease possibly sharing duties with Canucks goaltending prospect Joacim Eriksson this season. Markstrom is a tall goaltender who like the aggressive side of the game, when he can use all of his height to his advantage. He is well known for his “butterfly style”, but has to continue to work on playing deep in the “butterfly” while exposing a very weak “five hole”. He is another goaltender that plays the post-to-post very well, but reflexes when low in the crease have created opportunity the the opposition to score top shelf.

This season’s Canucks team record in seven games is 4-3-0, placing them fifth in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division with eight points. So far in goal this season, the starter Ryan Miller is 4-1, with a 2.71 goals against and a save percentage of .906, while Canucks backup goaltender is struggling with three games going 0-2, and a dismal 4.62 goals against, and an unimpressive .862 save percentage. In those three games, Lack has given up 12 goals on 87 shots.

It will be interesting to see if Markstrom can continue to play so well, and if so, will the Canucks organization give him a chance if the current backup Eddie Lack continues to be a non factor, while Ryan Miller gets his rest on the bench.