Canucks prospect DiPietro tearing up junior ranks
Agile goalie in the running for a spot on Canadian team for World Junior Championships
Give them a little face paint and mohawks and Vancouver Canucks netminders Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson could make you think of the Road Warriors, the powerhouse pro wrestling tag team of yesteryear.
In that vein, Canucks goalie prospect Michael DiPietro offers up images of some speedy, high-flying, cruiserweight type.
When it comes to his time in the crease these days, DiPietro is giving you reason to believe that he could have a long pro career, despite not fitting the current big, strapping goalie stereotype. He’s sparkled in the Ontario Hockey League, putting up a 12-5-1-0 mark along with a 2.44 goals against average and a .922 save percentage for the Windsor Spitfires, and he’s in the running for a spot on the Canadian team for the World Junior Championships.
He’s a member of the Team OHL squad that played the Russians Monday in Sudbury as part of the CIBC Canada Russia Series that Hockey Canada says it likes to use to help finalize players for its national junior team tryout camp. DiPietro, 18, was one of four goalies to take part in Hockey Canada’s summer development camp.
At 6-foot and 207 pounds, he was the shortest guy in that quartet. Markstrom (6-foot-6, 196 pounds) and Nilsson (6-foot-6, 229 pounds) tower over him as well.
“Absolutely a guy his size can play at the next level,” said Windsor goalie coach Perry Wilson. “One of things that Michael does well is get square to the puck. I also like his chances because he reads the play so well. He works hard to get to where he needs to get to early. His consistency in doing that, I think, really helps him.”
There are those who will tell you that the discrimination against shorter goalies at the NHL level is starting to fade away. For instance, in a Sporting News article about DiPietro, Adam Herman quoted InGoal Magazine staff writer Paul Campbell as saying this: “Size still helps. But the position has advanced so much in the last decade that a giant with poor technique is going to be picked to pieces by today’s shooters, compared to a technically sound goalie a couple inches shorter.”
That said, the draft numbers haven’t quite caught up to those ideals just yet.
There were 21 goalies picked in last summer’s NHL Draft. DiPietro was the third one selected, with the Canucks using a third-round choice, 64th overall on the Amherstburg, Ont., native who backstopped the host Spitfires to the 2017 Memorial Cup championship.
DiPietro was the shortest netminder among those who had their names called. Seven were listed at 6-foot-4 or taller, including first rounder Jake Oettinger, a 6-foot-4, 218 pounder from Boston University who went 26th overall to the Dallas Stars.
In the past three drafts, there have been 63 goalies selected. Erik Kallgren, a 2015 seventh rounder to the Arizona Coyotes, was the lone one listed at under 6-feet, coming in at 5-foot-11 and 157 pounds, according to NHL.com. Kallgren, now 21, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds by AIK, his Swedish league team.
For comparison, three of the first eight skaters selected in this past summer’s draft were listed at under 6-feet.
“He’s heard all his life that he’s too small,” Wilson said of DiPietro. “I can’t see why he can’t win at this one, too. He’s got a little bit of Henrik Lundqvist in him, except he plays out further. He’s about his reactions and his reads. He’s a throwback. He has a little Marty Brodeur in him in that way. Michael’s ability to get to square to the puck you can’t teach. And he’s about trusting his reads and going after it. He’s uncanny in that way.”
DiPietro is on Hockey Canada’s radar. He’s attended their Program of Excellence goaltending camps the past three summers. He was part of their entry in the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, which finished fifth.
He obviously drew considerable attention at last spring’s Memorial Cup, where he was named top goalie and to the all-star team.
“He’s won at every level,” said Wilson. “He’s been on the big stage. The way he played at the Memorial Cup last year was pretty phenomenal.”
As for DiPietro’s thoughts on being in a Canucks organization that already also features Thatcher Demko, 21, a 2014 second-round draft pick, in its net brigade, Wilson said this: “Michael is such a positive kid. He welcomes every challenge.”
The Spitfires hired Wilson last August, when Jim Bedard jumped to the Dallas Stars. Wilson had worked with DiPietro as a youngster in the past. He says that one of the things DiPietro is striving for this season is improved puck handling.
“His decision making is getting better and he’s moving the puck quicker and quicker all the time,” said Wilson. “I wouldn’t say he’s elite yet, but he’s on his way.
“His work ethic is unmatched. He always wants to get better. He’s never satisfied. It’s part of what separates him from the crowd.”
DiPietro has been hot in goal of late.
Goalie Michael DiPietro has delivered a 2.44 goals against average and a .922 save percentage for the Windsor Spitfires.
Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro was the third goalie picked during last summer’s NHL Draft — 64th overall.