No surprise here, as Merzlikins is locked up long-term as this team’s starter. Korpisalo returns with a fresh one-year contract to prove himself as an NHL goalie. The clock might be ticking for Joonas, but we have seen him stand on his head before. If he’s healthy, I think he could become a valuable trade chip by season’s end – or at least, he’ll push Merzlikins to be even better. I expect roughly a 50/30 split as far as starts this season, with Merzlikins shouldering as much of the workload as possible.
Missing the cut: Daniil Tarasov
This franchise is loaded with prospects and will still be in transition. I have a hard time not seeing Yegor Chinakhov on the opening night roster, but who do you take out of the lineup for him? And, it’s hard to see him sitting in the press box nightly. He’d be better suited playing in the AHL, gaining confidence, and then being called up when opportunity arises. He’s the toughest cut I can foresee if the roster shakes out this way.
In summary, I think this will be a very good team, maybe even on the playoff bubble. But, I still think they are 1-2 pieces away from serious contention. Ideally, they need someone other than Jenner to assume the role of #1 center. If Cole Sillinger (or maybe even Kent Johnson) can grab that role and be a two-way force, their chances improve. Aside from that, the defense is still very young, and in my opinion, there’s too much offense there. They will need to see improvements in the defensive zone from all six guys (and anyone else who joins the lineup), if they are to sniff the playoffs.
Lastly, the goaltending last season simply was not good enough. If the defense improves, and the centers do a better job in support, I think Merzlikins and Korpisalo are both capable. They’ll steal a game here and there, but really this team isn’t built in a way that needs that to happen any longer. They just need to be above average, and get better support. If all of these things happen this year, maybe Jarmo’s reload will be finished quicker than expected.