With three out of the four signed Columbus Blue Jackets goalies without a contract for next season, its never a bad idea to check in on the goalie prospects.
There may not be a deeper goalie pipeline in the NHL than the Columbus Blue Jackets. They don’t have the high end stars like a Carter Hart or Ilya Samsonov, but they are darn close with their stable of future goalies. With the uncertain future of Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo‘s shaky play, the front office could be looking at the pipeline of goalies sooner rather than later.
Lets start in the AHL which might have the gloomiest outlook of any section of the prospect pool. Journeyman Jean-Francois Berube has played the majority of the games in Cleveland this year and not the Jackets youngster Matiss Kivlenieks. Berube has 20 starts with a .906 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.87. Not great but right around his career average in the AHL and it is enough to give the Monsters a chance to win every night.
But the lack of playing time for Kivlenieks is concerning. The 22-year-old Latvian has only made eight starts and hasn’t looked good in those appearances. His save percentage is only .884 and is allowing over 3.41 goals per game. Although not a huge sample size, these are worse numbers than his less than stellar performance in the 2017-2018 year.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Kivlenieks is coming off of his second best performance of the year though on Saturday when he held the division’s best team to just one goal. Kivlenieks was replaced by Berube though for the overtime period when the Rochester Americans were able to beat JF to win 2-1 in overtime.
Elsewhere in North America, the Jackets 2016 sixth round pick Peter Thome is having a rough season. The North Dakota goalie was expected to take the starting mantle this year for one of college hockey’s perennial powers but Thome has not come close to meeting expectations. His poor play have led to limited starts. Thome is allowing over three and a half goals per game and has a save percentage of only .838. Just dreadful numbers for a once promising NCAA product.
Netminders in Europe
Across the pond though there is plenty of promise starting with the most recently drafted goalie, Veini Vehvilainen. The 21-year-old Finn was drafted in the 6th round by the Jackets this summer and he is making the scouting staff look like geniuses. Playing in the top Finnish league, Veini is dominating. He leads the league in goals against average (1.31) and save percentage (.943) by a large margin. Karpat has allowed 26 fewer goals than the second stingiest team in Liiga
Veini is the anchor to a team that looks like it will run away with the Liiga title. He is a rock in net and has been now for two years. European scouts were a bit surprised he wasn’t drafted in 2017 and we are seeing why now. Veini’s contract with Karpat is until the end of the 2020 season.
More than 1400 miles south of Karpat’s home in Oulu, Finland (also home of Markus Nutivaara) we find the Jacket’s most talked about goalie prospect, Elvis Merzlikins. Elvis is having another great season for HC Lugano. He is the workhorse for the team, starting 23 of 25 games. Numbers wise he is having a better year than last season when he was named the goalie of the year for the league, but his team isn’t giving him near enough goal support. Merz is doing his job though with a .923 save percentage.
Finally we arrive at a prospect that we will finally have a chance to watch during the World Junior Championships. Daniil Tarasov who was the Columbus Blue Jackets 3rd round pick in 2017, will be the workhorse for Team Russia at the tournament in British Columbia.
Tarasov should have plenty of confidence coming into the WJC as he has had a great season in Russia’s second tier professional league (VHL) as a 19-year-old. He is the only under-20 player in the VHL with a save percentage above .900 and a goals against average below two. Tarasov has incredible pedigree and although he won’t be coming to North American in the next few years, he is a very bright spot in the goalie pipeline that Jackets fans should be excited about.
The goalie pipeline is the strongest section of the Jackets prospect pool. The Jackets only need to hit on one of these guys and they have plenty of promising options as they look forward to the 2019 season and beyond.