The 25-year-old goaltender has had an extraordinary career in professional hockey.
Heading into free agency, the Vancouver Canucks had a solid first goaltender in Thatcher Dimko and a rookie prospect in Arturs Silovs. What they don’t have is a replacement guard.
Goalkeeper Spencer Martin stumbled last season when he was pushed into a bigger role. Colin Delia was a little better, but he left in free agency and signed with the Winnipeg Jets. For Silovs, his development would probably be best done by playing key minutes in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks rather than immediately starting in the NHL as Demko’s backup.
On Day 1 of free agency, Patrick Alvin added another goaltender to the mix, signing Zach Sochenko to a two-way, one-year deal with a maximum of $775,000 at the NHL level.
Sawchenko has little NHL experience, having played just seven games in the 2021-22 season with the San Jose Sharks, posting a . 901 save percentage. He spent all of last season in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, posting a 0.95 save percentage in 41 games.
These aren’t promising numbers, but there’s something to be said for the 25-year-old’s determination to make it to the NHL in the first place.
Sawchenko was undrafted despite a strong draft year with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL and Team Canada’s appearance in the U-18 World Championship. He then took the unusual route of forgoing his senior year of minor hockey to go to college, playing Canadian collegiate hockey at the University of Alberta, which is rarely a path to the NHL.
“When I left as a rookie, I got tired of the game, I just fell in love with it. It became a job for me more than I really enjoyed it as much as I could have hoped,” Sotchenko told the Edmonton Sun. “So when I left school, I went to school to focus on school and hockey took a step back.”
He went on to win a national championship in his senior year with the University of Alberta Golden Bears, rekindling his love of hockey. This eventually led to an AHL contract with the San Jose Barracuda. Then, after splitting his time between the AHL and the ECHL, he landed an NHL contract with the San Jose Sharks.
Perhaps this determination to make our way from the bottom up pleases goalkeeper coach Ian Clarke, who attributes the competitive nature of goalkeepers.
Sauchenko’s signature does not answer the question of who will support Demko next season. Sawchenko will likely battle Martin and Silovs for the role, while the other two play in the AHL. There’s also the wild card of Nikita Tolopelo, a 6’6″ goaltender who excelled in Allsvenskan Swedish hockey, signed by the Canucks last March.
None of these four guards have proven NHL backups, so it will be interesting to see how many starts Demko gets next season.