CHICAGO – Ready or not, here he is.
Michael DiPietro has come to the National Hockey League about three years early, convened from junior of Vancouver Canucks in the middle of a goaltending crisis for which the organization is partly responsible.
One of Canucks' worst weeks has given the 19-year-old one of his greatest moments: an unexpected early glimpse of the NHL – and an NHL paycheque – plus the chance to gather intelligence and experience that should help him land more permanent employment one day in the world's largest league.
Vancouver's third round election from the 2017 entry draft joined Canucks Tuesday in Washington after 23-year-old backup Thatcher Demko, another elite, more polished outlook who has mentored DiPietro at the summer camps, was injured the night before while warming up in Philadelphia.
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DiPietro is now suddenly a tweaked groin or bad sushi away from playing in the NHL. Canuck's starting Jacob Markstrom, who probably spent Wednesday's day off in bubble packs, makes his sixth straight start Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Demko, sent back to Vancouver for an MRI on his knees, could be out for a few weeks. In the midst of the playoffs in the playoffs, Canuck's six games in the next 10 days, including back-to-backs next week in California against kings and ducks.
Yes, it can be interesting.
"It's definitely scary when you go in and hang around these guys," said DiPietro from Amherstburg, Ont., After backing Markstrom on Tuesday's 3-2 loss for the Washington Capitals. "But on the ice, the puck is the same size and the net is just as big. The boys are just a little bigger, but it's a cool experience."
Understandably, DiPietro can be the only happy guy in Canucks' dressing room.
Despite playing well in Philadelphia and Washington, Vancouver lost both games with a goal. Worse, top defenseman Alex Edler suffered a concussion on a scary fall against Flyers. And Demko's freak injuries – this spring is supposed to be his big NHL entry – forced Canucks to reach down to the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67s to bring another goalkeeper.
The team has worked without a netminding security net since veteran minor leaguer Richard Bachman suffered a seasonal Achilles injury on December 21, and his replacement, Mike McKenna, was lost on exceptions to Flyers on January 4, a couple of days after Canucks experienced experienced backup Anders Nilsson went to Ottawa Senators to make room in the NHL for Demko.
In the month between losing McKenna to Flyers and Demko to injury, Canucks General Manager Jim Benning could not find a suitable goalkeeper to give the depth of the organization.
At Canucks' team in Utica, goalkeeper Ivan Kulbakov plays on an American League contract, and Michael Leighton is on a minor league tryout.
Then enter DiPietro.
"He's a really good goalkeeper, a forthcoming guy," said Canuck's coach Travis Green before Capitals' games. "It will be a good experience for him to be here and be around our guys. I spoke to him this morning. I do not know how long he will be here, but (I told him):" Enjoy it, get it something out of it. You don't just want to sit and see everyone. "He is a good child. He has called right, he wants good, I think he should be a good pro."
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Just not yet.
"It's just another learning curve for myself, another step forward," DiPietro said. "It's definitely a cool option to step on the ice and soak it all in and just be around the boys. I just have to take it for the experience and what it is and just enjoy it all."
It is not like DiPietro deserves any positivity.
He was more victim than a sinner in Team Canada's failed Christmas junior tournament campaign. During intense pressure and investigation at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, DiPietro released a .952 save rate in four starts.
He was carrying an erroneous Canadian team to the medal round, when in the final moment of regulation in the quarterfinals, Finnish protests Eeli Tovanen shot the puck from the side of the net from an acute angle and then turned the rebound off of teammate Aleksi Heponiemi's shin pad and then the puck up and over DiPietro's shoulder.
The vines, which continued to win gold, could not recreate that goal in 1000 attempts.
Before the tournament, DiPietro was traded to Ottawa by Windsor Spitfires, with whom the netmine won a Memorial Cup in 2017 when he was named OHL goalkeeper of the year.
It has been a good winter for DiPietro.
"It's been a whirlwind," he said. "It's certainly unexpected, many ups and downs. It has certainly been hectic and busy, but it's something cool, and I'm really honored to make it happen to me. As I said , I just try to take every experience that comes my way day by day and not really overthink it and just enjoy it well. "