Markstrom biding time in backup role
Eddie Lack is getting the playing time he needs to be a No. 1; but Markstrom needs the same to be a legit No. 2
When 6-foot-6 Jacob Markstrom loped into the Canucks’ locker-room Wednesday, his smile was longer than his legs.
The goalie who never plays was clutching his sleek new mask with a sneering Orca that had just arrived from Sweden. Admittedly, it is a pretty great mask.
“But if it meant I could play, I’d do it without one,” he said, whipping his head back with a meaty laugh.
Whatever frustration Markstrom is feeling about being on a team that has yet to show faith in him, he doesn’t wear it. Or, more accurately, he doesn’t let it wear on him.
“I knew about the situation when I came here, I just come to the rink every day with a smile and do what I can to get some positive vibes in the room,” he said.
The “situation” is one the Canucks are confident will revive the development of one of the most impressive athletic specimens in hockey.
We’ll see. Actually, we probably won’t see him until the Canucks are officially eliminated from the playoffs.
With his towering height, patience and explosive movements, Markstrom is thick with raw talent. It’s why, not that long ago, he carried the “best goalie not in the NHL” tagline.
But he struggled, first making the transition from Sweden to the AHL and then again going from the AHL to the NHL.
“I’ve been around the NHL long enough now that I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” Markstrom said. “I think mentally I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I react.
“I can look back now and question myself in the past for being miserable for a week and whatever. It’s made me a better goalie.”
After starting 23 of 48 games for the Panthers last season — he won eight — his shine dulled along with his save percentage (.901).
He did sign a two-year deal, but in the first year he's been on a two-way contract that calls for a lower salary if he's in the minors. In the second year, next season, Markstrom will be making $1.2 million on a one-way contract.
Many believe the Canucks will look to bring in a veteran goalie, but with dead money piling up like a tax bill, are they really going to pay Markstrom $1.2 million to play in Utica?
Yet, if he isn’t ready now to play games that matter, how is he going to become a trusted backup over the summer?
Enter Rollie Melanson, who re-shaped Eddie Lack’s technique and is now overhauling the way Markstrom plays net.
The most obvious change will be depth. With his size, Markstrom has never blocked the number of shots he should. It’s partially because his length is prone to giving up bigger holes when he makes bigger movements around the crease.
Calming his game by having him play deeper will theoretically take better advantage of his size.
“It’s a different game,” Markstrom said. “You have to learn to trust your reflexes. The angles are all different when you’re playing deeper.
“It gets better for me every day.
“But I’m open to this. I want to be a better goalie. I want to learn. I’m excited to learn.”
Markstrom was ready to leave Florida on trade deadline day, feeling “stuck in the mud.” Whatever the Panthers were doing with him, it was not working.
“I had talked to Eddie about Rollie before I got here and he really likes him,” Markstrom said. “I’ve seen what he’s done with Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider and Eddie.
“I played with Jose Theodore too. He had Rollie in Montreal and had a lot of good things to say about him. I was excited.”
The excitement has been muted by the reality that he’s been relegated to cheerleader status during games, with Lack starting 17 in a row.
The Canucks claim one of the reasons is that they want Lack on an accelerated learning curve as he figures out how to become a No. 1 goalie.
But if Lack needs to learn to become a starter, doesn’t Markstrom need to learn how to be a backup?
“You want to play games, and it’s no fun just practice, practice, practice,” Markstrom said. “It’s a lot different in a game. I just want to play.”
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