Identifying the Core Pieces for the Columbus Blue Jackets

We talk quite a bit about the future core of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That core is at least a couple of years away from being a serious contender. Who do we consider to be a part of it?
Minnesota Wild v Columbus Blue Jackets
Minnesota Wild v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages
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Even in a down season, it's been somewhat easy to scope out players who are building blocks towards the future in Columbus - and the players who are not.

It's also easy to say that there are brighter times ahead for this franchise. At least in part, that's because they're at one of the lowest points of their history.

But, that isn't the only reason we say the future is brighter. I don't think I can recall seeing a better pool of young players here. For the first time in their existence, they have pieces in every position that could become top contributors; perhaps with the exception of a standout young goaltender.

Some of those pieces are already contributing in the NHL. Others are still playing at lower levels. When it all comes together, it could be magical. It will just take (a lot) more time than we hoped.

Since I mentioned standout young goaltenders, let's start in the net. Elvis Merzlikins is signed for three seasons after this one, and is paid to be the starter. While he's been openly displeased lately, I don't see his situation changing. The team needs him, and he needs the team (reportedly, there wasn't much interest in him on the trade market).

Jan 30, 2024; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90)
Jan 30, 2024; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) / Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports

After that, well, things are less than exciting. Daniil Tarasov continues to try to find his way at the NHL level, with mixed results. Jet Greaves has burst onto the scene this season - and has even been well better than expected at the NHL level. But, he's undersized; and as an undrafted free agent, he's a little bit hard to project as the future #1 backstop of the organization. Time will tell.

Perhaps more intriguing is Russian netminder Sergei Ivanov. He's been dominant in the KHL, and if he ever comes over to North America, could be a good one to keep an eye on. But like Greaves, size is a concern. After these guys are late round gamble out of Sweden, Melvin Strahl; and another undrafted free agent, Nolan Lalonde.

It may be time for the Jackets to send some assets away for a true future starting goaltender. Or maybe, just use a higher draft pick to find someone with more upside. If they do decide to make a trade though, it shouldn't include the future core players; who should be taking this roster over by the time the 2025-26 season starts. Let's start with the defense corps.