Who is Arturs Silovs? How a rookie goalie has steadied the Canucks’ playoff run

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — “Take the ball.”

Everything about those three words was an invitation. It was a way to let Arturs Silovs know that although he had already done quite a bit, he could still do so much more, because those around him believed he was capable of more.

Several months have passed since Abbotsford Canucks coach Jeremy Colliton delivered that message. In that time, Silovs has gone from a strong AHL goaltender to one who has won three postseason games for the Vancouver Canucks in one of this year’s unlikeliest situations.

Think about that. Or rather, think about it like this: Silovs is a 23-year-old goalie from Latvia, a nation whose population is smaller than metro Vancouver. For all the questions facing the Canucks about how they’d survive without injured Vezina Trophy finalist Thatcher Demko, they have found answers with Silovs’ ascension.

His first postseason start saw him come away with the victory in a Game 4 overtime win over the Nashville Predators in the first round. He gave the Canucks a chance to win Game 5, only to be one of the biggest reasons they won Game 6 as he recorded a 1-0 shutout to close out the series.

It is the sort of rise that has made him and his actions unavoidable. Silovs’ bold fashion choices led to Canucks alternate captain J.T. Miller donning the goalie’s Hugo Boss paisley T-shirt as a practice sweater. What started as a prank turned into a full-on movement with so many Canucks fans flooding Hugo Boss’ website that the “Interlock-Cotton T-Shirt with Paisley Print,” as it’s called, is sold out. Fans have worn them during games at Rogers Arena — the same Rogers Arena that roared more for Silovs than anyone else announced in the starting lineup despite the fact that he has spent the least amount of time of anyone on the Canucks’ active roster.

All because he took the ball.

“We gave him an opportunity to play three to four games [in a row] or play a back-to-back in both games and be someone that our young group could count on,” Colliton said. “I think to have that responsibility isn’t easy when you yourself are a young player. That’s a part of his growth and what you want to expose guys to as they get to another level.”

Even in such a short time, Silovs has created a discussion about whether the Canucks have something on their hands. Every one of his performances has added to that conversation, while generating a few more talking points.

Exactly who is this man? And is he for real?

Romanticism is rarely in short supply when it comes to athletes arriving at certain stages of their careers. Hockey, or rather, playoff hockey, is no different. Ideas that once seemed far-fetched suddenly appear realistic, as does the possibility that something better might be on the horizon.

Clinging to this sort of hope can be equal parts rewarding and painful. It’s what makes this particular point in the Canucks narrative so emphatic. Promise born out of pain has become the story of a season that has seen a franchise draft star homegrown players and finally build around them in a way that could mark the start of a significant culture change.

This is a point Colliton and Abbotsford goalie coach Marko Torenius stress when it comes to the culture of their parent club and how it feels so up-close-and-personal despite being a 72-kilometer drive away on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Silovs is one of those players who embodies the culture the Canucks are trying to cultivate with their prospects in the hope of creating long-term success.

Every year, NHL teams try to find a physically imposing goalie with athleticism. Silovs and his 6-foot-4 build is just that. As organizations seek to use a farm-to-table approach to build their teams, Silovs is an example of that, too.

And with more franchises using at least two goalies to get through a season, Silovs is an option who understands the balance that comes with wanting to win, while also realizing the dynamics of having one of the NHL’s best netminders at the top of the depth chart.

“In our organization, there’s [Canucks goaltending coach] Ian Clark, who recognizes those talented guys and he has his unique style to scout with his people and they have been finding those talented guys and Arty is one of those guys,” Torenius said. “He has been stepping down that path since he got here. It’s been years since [Clark] brought Arty on that journey, and those last couple seasons have been big steps, but he’s still on that journey to become a better goalie.”

Back in 2019, the Canucks drafted Silovs in the sixth round. He was part of a draft class that saw goalies such as Spencer Knight and Pyotr Kochetkov go ahead of him while Silovs was picked before Dustin Wolf.

Silovs quickly made the transition to North American hockey. The 2019-20 season was his first as a Canucks prospect and that led to him playing for the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League, where he won 16 games. He spent the next season playing on loan back in Latvia with a cameo in the AHL that amounted to him playing nine games in a 2020-21 campaign that was still feeling the impact of the pandemic.

The 2021-22 season saw him take another step. He played 10 games in the ECHL, another 10 games in the AHL while finding success on the international stage. Silovs went 3-3 but had a 0.87 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage in his international games that season.

All the patience that was exercised throughout his development saw a breakthrough in 2022-23 when Silovs cemented himself as a full-time AHL goaltender. He parlayed that success into being the goalie who led Latvia to a bronze medal finish with an overtime victory against the United States at the IIHF men’s world championship. That led to him being named the goaltender of the tournament.

The growth he showed last season is why Colliton, among others, challenged him to take the next step in 2023-24. It’s what opened the door for him to get called up to the Canucks when Demko went down with a knee injury back in March. He won three of his four starts and had a 2.58 goals-against average while working in tandem with Casey DeSmith.

Demko started Game 1 with a win, but sustained another injury and hasn’t played since. DeSmith took over in Games 2 and 3 of the first round, but reportedly suffered a lower-body injury along the way, prompting Canucks coach Rick Tocchet to turn to Silovs, who won the necessary games to get them into the second round for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

“He gives us confidence,” Canucks defenseman Nikita Zadorov said. “It’s not like we’re giving him confidence. You see him stay calm, make big saves. You can see it in his face, his body language — that’s what us in the D-corps talk about. That this guy is ready to play and he’s unreal. It’s not like we’re giving him confidence. He gives us confidence.”

Discussing what has allowed Silovs to become such an improbable figure for the Canucks leads Zadorov to talk about how this has happened before. He mentioned how Jordan Binnington took time to develop and when he was ready, he was one of the biggest reasons why the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019.

Not that Zadorov was comparing Silovs to Binnington, but his point was that there’s a precedent for goaltenders who might have been largely unknown at one stage of the season becoming a pivotal figure in the playoffs.

That’s another reason Colliton and Torenius underscore the culture the Canucks are trying to implement. Torenius said Clark has made a point of seeking goaltenders who aren’t afraid to work and have a competitive drive, while also emphasizing that every goalie in their system must care about details down to the most granular level.

Torenius explained how it’s about letting goaltenders be who they are as people while also helping them become the sort of players who can turn into significant contributors.

“There is that awareness with how you read the game, how you use your vision, and it’s also that technical part where we want our guys to be on top of the pace of the game,” Torenius said. “You don’t want to be behind the game. We want to be on top and you build those tools over time and with repetition. It gives you a game plan for every individual we have here.”

Winning in the NHL can be achieved in numerous ways. The Canucks’ formula has seen them make the type of free agent signings and trades under general manager Patrik Allvin that have given them options throughout their lineup.

Yet building around a homegrown core is considered the most prominent path toward winning. The Canucks have seen homegrown talent come through and depart, with the current roster including six players they drafted (that doesn’t include the recent influx of Black Aces that joined the team after Abbotsford’s season ended in the playoffs).

Silovs is among those six, and the only one who wasn’t drafted in the first two rounds. Even if his run is brief, it helps show that later-round draft picks can find success in the Canucks system.

“I do think it’s important for the guys who are here to see that success and to see that it’s there, that it’s available,” said Colliton, who coached the Chicago Blackhawks for three-plus seasons. “If you want to put in the work and prepare yourself for your opportunity — we’ve had that a lot. I think it’s very motivating for the guys who are here that it’s a big step, but you’re close if you can keep fighting.”

That visibility isn’t limited to prospects. It’s also on display for an entire nation to observe. Silovs is just the 28th Latvian player and only the sixth Latvian goalie in NHL history, according to QuantHockey. It’s a group that includes former NHL defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh and former goaltender Arturs Irbe.

As for Silovs, he’s one of five Latvians to play at least one game this season, a list that includes Canucks center Teddy Blueger, who has the fifth-most points by a Latvian player in NHL history.

Eric Savics, who is the honorary consul for the Latvian Embassy in Vancouver, notes that there is a 10-hour time difference between Vancouver and Riga, the nation’s capital. Even with that gulf in time, he said, many people back home have made a point to watch Silovs because of what it means to the nation.

One of the nation’s daily newspapers, Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, has posted numerous stories on its website about Silovs. Entering Game 2, the most read story on the site was about how Silovs has turned into a cult figure among Canucks fans on social media. The headline, when translated to English, reads, “‘Give the Latvian god a million dollars!’ A real cult of Silovs is emerging in Vancouver.”

“They would follow him if he was a tennis player, a bowler or God knows what,” said Savics, who was born in Latvia and immigrated to Canada as a child. “As long as he is world class, they will follow whatever he does. That’s the pride of the country and that’s the idea. People there see it as ‘one of our athletes is making it.'”

This could just be the start for Silovs.

What he did in the quarterfinals paved the way for him to start against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference semifinal. Although he allowed four goals, he still made the needed third-period saves to aid his teammates in coming back from a three-goal deficit to complete a 5-4 win to open the series.

Tocchet said between Games 1 and 2 that Silovs had earned the right to start the second game. Tocchet, however, also said DeSmith could be an option for Game 2, only to declare at morning skate of Game 2 that Silovs would start.

Silovs would stop 27 of the 31 shots he faced in the Canucks’ 4-3 overtime loss Friday that tied the series at 1-1. It’s possible that Silovs will remain in net for Game 3 with the understanding that Demko could potentially return by Game 5 at the earliest, according to a report from Daily Faceoff.

“He was really good,” Tocchet said after Game 2. “Arty — I’m really proud of him. I thought he was really good.”

Now that they’ve seen how Silovs has responded to the demands of being a starting goaltender in the playoffs, his performances could also give Allvin and his front office staff a decision to make in the offseason.

Silovs, who earned $786,111 this season, will be a pending restricted free agent. DeSmith, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, made $1.8 million. The Canucks could determine that Silovs and his team-friendly cap hit can be trusted to be Demko’s backup, or they could keep DeSmith or sign another experienced option just to be safe.

Yet the potential savings Silovs provides could allow the Canucks to maximize what CapFriendly projects will be $24.778 million in available space. The Canucks have a pending UFA class that includes Ian Cole, Dakota Joshua, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Myers and Zadorov, while Filip Hronek will become a restricted free agent.

“He knows he has a lot to prove and he has come from afar,” Torenius said of Silovs. “He’s lucky that there are guys like Clarkie who knows what it takes. He has been filtering that information from those guys about how to get to the top level. … When your eyes are open and your ears are open, you can learn something from them and he’s been ready to learn.”

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