On March 4, 2014, Swedish netminder Jacob Markstrom was traded along with Shawn Matthias to Vancouver in a deal that saw Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony head the other way to the sunshine state.
Markstrom, a 31st overall selection by Florida in 2008, left the organisation after four years with a losing NHL record and less than flattering statistics to boot, having never really established himself.
He would make three starts for Vancouver before the season end, allowing a combined eight goals in two losses but would garner a win on home ice, allowing just a goal on 22 shots against Calgary.
With Vancouver signing Ryan Miller during the summer and preferring Eddie Lack as his number two, Markstrom was to start the season in Utica, a full 3000 miles from Vancouver.
Out of sight out of mind? Well Markstrom made sure that wasn’t the case as he began 2014/15 like a man possessed between the pipes.
He would record four shutouts in his first six games and go eight games unbeaten in regulation to begin the season.
For a man whose AHL win record was only three games above .500, Markstrom responded well to his run being broken(shelled by Rochester for six goals), by winning five of his next six, allowing just six goals in those victories.
The backend of January wasn’t so kind to the Swedish netminder as he endured his worst losing run of the season but a record of 5-2 in February, allowing just thirteen goals during that period, led to a call-up due to injuries in Vancouver.
It was the first of three call-ups in a short space of time for Markstrom, which didn’t begin at all well on his seasonal debut for the Canucks. The visiting San Jose Sharks chased him from the net just 7:45 in, as they tallied three times on just four attempts, with their players admitting afterwards that was their well executed plan. Markstrom would have to wait 19 days for his next start and on March 22, he showed some of the excellent form he’d been exhibiting in Utica, allowing just one goal on 27 shots on the road in Arizona.
It would be back to the AHL and helping the Comets propel themselves to the Western Conference title with a scorching run to finish the season.
Almost inevitably Markstrom’s return resulted in his fifth shutout of the season, repelling a desperate Chicago team on the road. He would go on to win every start to finish the regular season but failed to go the distance in a quite remarkable game in Binghamton. A hit from Kramer on a Utica player in the Comets zone drew a crowd including Markstrom who was ordered back to his net. The fighting continued in front of him and eventually Markstrom dropped the gloves with Binghamton goaltender Peter Manino, who himself was only in net after coming in as relief ten minutes into the game.
With both men ejected, Joacim Eriksson took to the net for Utica but allowed five goals on nine shots as the Comets let slip a late lead to lose in overtime.
Jacob Markstrom would finish the regular season with a record of 22-7-2 and statistics in the top five of all AHL goaltenders.
His play in the playoffs would step up a notch as he helped see off Chicago in the first series that went all the way to five games.
In the two rounds that followed versus Oklahoma and Grand Rapids respectively, Markstrom would record a shutout in the game decider of both series.
In fact through the opening three rounds of the playoffs, only on three occasions did the Swedish goaltender give up more than two goals. Against a top notch Manchester Monarchs in the Calder finals, Markstrom gave everything he had but even he had no answers to the constant firepower of the Los Angeles affiliate as Utica fell in five.
Confidence and belief are such huge characteristics in hockey and no more so than for goaltenders.
Markstrom’s ability to put bad goals or defeats behind him was no better encapsulated than during the first three rounds of the post-season as Utica went 7-0 after recording a loss.
An RFA heading into the summer, Markstrom has certainly done himself no harm in helping Vancouver find a new suitor should they wish to part company. At 25 years old, he’s certainly not reached his peak and for the first time in his North American career he found a level of consistency, albeit in the AHL.
All the talk is that he is ready for the NHL level and having seen him play a great deal this season I don’t disagree with that view.
If Matt Murray was the number one goaltending story in the American Hockey League during 2014/15, Markstrom certainly wasn’t far behind him and it’ll be interesting to see where both ply their trade next season.