The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is just over a week away.
The Vancouver Canucks don’t have a pick until the third round of the draft. As they prepare for the draft, we’re evaluating the top 10 prospects in their system. Today, at No. 5, is Mike DiPietro.
The Canucks have hit home runs in the first round in recent years, but a top 10 list means checking out more than the players who are almost certain to make it — which usually happens with first-rounders — as the best teams find players on the fringes of the draft.
Is DiPietro one of those guys? As talented a goalie as they come, he had an outstanding first pro season. Whether Thatcher Demko stays or goes this season, DiPietro’s status as next-in-line in the crease is rock-solid.
(Prospect No. 5)
Height: 6 foot. Weight: 201 pounds.
Draft year: Third round, 2017.
Current team: Utica Comets (AHL).
Outlook: 1A goaltender.
DiPietro’s spirit has never been in doubt.
The 21-year-old netminder lost his mother when he was just five years old. His father told Postmedia News two years ago that that tragedy was an early source of the young goalie’s modern-day good character and for his ability to persevere.
His mom, Rebecca, died from a recurrence of cancer. Mike was born while it was in remission after her first bout.
“He was a miracle baby,” his father, Vic, said at the 2018 Young Stars Classic. “I think he learned at a very young age that a lot of people go through a lot of hard times, so live in the moment, be grateful for what you have and have fun.”
DiPietro’s positive outlook is always clear when you speak with him, no matter the circumstances. Even after his NHL debut in 2019, when he was shelled for seven goals by the San Jose Sharks, he remained upbeat.
“It’s something I’ve dreamt about my entire life and to have the opportunity this young to do it, it’s something that’s positive for me, that I’ll take as a learning experience,” he said at the time.
DiPietro graduated to pro hockey full-time this past season, making 36 starts for New York’s Utica Comets and subbing in for eight more minutes of NHL action with the Canucks, and he impressed, again, all he met.
“Outstanding person, outstanding player, a work ethic like nobody I’ve come across,” said Comets general manager Ryan Johnson, who also serves as the Canucks’ senior director of player development. “He puts in the work. It’s a cliche but it’s true here: he’s the first guy on, last guy off for every practice. He never takes a drill off. He adheres himself to his teammates, six-, seven-year veterans just want to play for him.”
Everywhere DiPietro has gone, he’s had success. He was a star for his hometown Windsor Spitfires. For 3 1/2 seasons. He initially hit a bump with the Ottawa 67’s after a midseason trade in his last year of major junior but was the goalie they expected to see when the playoffs came around.
He was solid as a rock for Canada at the World Juniors that season too, though Canada suffered a power failure on offence despite playing at home at Rogers Arena. They were bounced in the quarterfinals by Finland , off a goal by fellow Canucks prospect Toni Utunen no less.
“You look at a first-year goalie out of junior, he got 21 wins. We were a little run- and-gun early in the season and our team felt confident doing that because they knew he’d get a big save,” Johnson said of DiPietro’s first season in Utica, where he posted a .908 save percentage. “At times he put his team on his back. There will be no excuse in his path to be a starter and an impact player.”
InGoal Magazine’s Kevin Woodley said the technical improvements that DiPietro has made in just one year of pro play has impressed many.
“Mikey’s game has come a long way since he was drafted,” he said. “He once told me the irony of him not being a tall goalie (DiPietro stands “just” 6-foot) was he tended to get beaten down low not up high.”
Woodley got a glimpse of DiPietro’s problems at a Hockey Canada camp a few summers ago and it was all down to his biomechanics: He was too hunched over in his stance.
“His chest was almost flat to the ice,” Woodley recalled. “If your chest is down on the ice that much you have to pull back your shoulders to counterbalance and low shots tend to get underneath your vision.”
The book on DiPietro in the OHL was that he struggled to stop shots just above the height of his pads when they were covering the ice. If the puck didn’t go in the first time, it would lead to frantic situations on rebounds.
“And it’s not just that you get beat over the pads, everything after that low shot means you’re into goalie 911,” Woodley said.
Working with Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark in Vancouver and goalie development consultant Curtis Sanford with the Comets, DiPietro’s stance became more upright. That was a big, positive change, Woodley said, and he also pointed out that you could see DiPietro was starting down this path at the 2019 World Juniors.
“When that chest is upright you’re seeing the puck longer. It allows him to stay ‘on-vision’ longer through the shooter’s release,” he said.
“The ability to execute the technical change in real short order, do it in your first year of pro, speaks to everything that everyone loves about Mikey about his game, his eagerness to constantly improve and his ability to adapt,” he added. “He’s further ahead than many people thought he would be at this point.”
2020 TOP 10 CANUCKS PROSPECTS
No. 10: Toni Utunen.
No. 9: Aidan McDonough.
No. 8: Jett Woo.
No. 7: Kole Lind.
No. 6: Brogan Rafferty .
No. 5: Mike DiPietro.
No. 4: Tomorrow.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020