Blue Jackets Quickly Becoming Goaltending Factory

Blue Jackets Goaltending, Commentary, Elvis Merzlikins, Jarmo Kekalainen, Joonas Korpisalo, Matiss Kivlenieks

Bob who?

That is the question many fans are asking of late. For them, that’s a very good thing. How were the Columbus Blue Jackets going to move on from Sergei Bobrovsky after he left for South Florida? We were going to see the state of the goaltending depth play out.

In this crazy 2019-20 season, one of the biggest positives has been the goaltending not only on the Blue Jackets, but also throughout the organization. It has become a cornerstone of the franchise now and in the future.

Things haven’t always been rosy in this area for the Blue Jackets. The goaltending depth was once in shambles. Thanks to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his vision for the future in Columbus, he has helped the Blue Jackets become a factory for young goaltenders.

Jarmo Kekäläinen
Jarmo Kekalainen has helped the Blue Jackets become a factory of young goaltending. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Great Drafting Results

From the time Kekalainen started as GM of the Blue Jackets in 2013, the team has drafted four goalies.

  • Elvis Merzlikins: 76th pick in the 2014 draft.
  • Peter Thome: 155th pick in the 2016 draft.
  • Daniil Tarasov: 86th pick in the 2017 draft.
  • Veini Vehvilainen: 173rd pick in the 2018 draft.

This does not include Matiss Kivlenieks, who the Blue Jackets signed out of the USHL in May 2017. This also does not include Joonas Korpisalo, who was named an All-Star for the first time in his career this season. He’s currently working his way back from injury.

So these six goaltenders are each doing something special at this point in their careers. This points to an incredible scouting staff on the Blue Jackets who are able to identify this talent either later in the draft or outside of it.

The team is very high on the state of the goaltending. Korpisalo, Merzlikins and Kivlenieks have all seen NHL time. Tarasov might be the best of this entire bunch in terms of upside. Vehvilainen has NHL upside and is enjoying a great season in the AHL. And Thome is making the most of his opportunity at the University of North Dakota and enjoying success now that he’s starting more games. He is currently unsigned but could be an option later.

Not many teams can say that they have five goalies within their organization that are NHL caliber goaltenders (six if you count unsigned Thome.) But the Blue Jackets can say that. It is a clear strength of the team. Now count the state of their defense (I know they’re dealing with injury now) but when healthy, they are very deep there too. From the blue line back, there aren’t many teams if any stronger than the Blue Jackets.

Take a look at the numbers for the various goaltenders this season.

  • Korpisalo: 17-10-4, 2.49 goals-against, .913 save percentage.
  • Merzlikins: 12-8-5, 2.18 goals-against, .930 save percentage, five shutouts.
  • Kivlenieks: 1-0-2, 2.30 goals-against, .916 save percentage in NHL.
  • Vehvilainen: 2.54 goals-against, .909 save percentage in AHL.
  • Tarasov: 2.61 goals-against, .900 save percentage in Liiga (Finland.)
  • Thome: 5-0-1, 1.30 goals-against, .935 save percentage in NCAA.

It’s no wonder goaltending coach Manny Legace is excited about the future. There is talent everywhere.

Downstream Effects of Good Scouting

This is what a good scouting staff can do. In the absence of owning the number-one pick and landing a franchise altering talent up front, teams can find hidden gems later in drafts. As the Blue Jackets have demonstrated, there is talent to be hand from round three on. They’ve been able to find that talent and bring them into their organization. This has helped vastly changed the overall fortunes of the team. The Blue Jackets are currently in a fight to make their fourth straight trip to the playoffs. Goaltending and defense is the reason why.

Other teams can learn from the Blue Jackets model. Scouting, drafting and development is at the core of how the Blue Jackets operate. Excelling in these areas allows so many options later. You don’t have to depend on trades or free agency to improve. Could you imagine the Edmonton Oilers if they had a scouting department like the Blue Jackets? That would be scary good with Connor McDavid as your centerpiece.

Now, the Blue Jackets can pick and choose their battles if they see an opportunity to improve. If they see a chance to get an impact forward for example, they could choose to dip into their depth on defense and in goal. The downstream effects of being solid in areas allows opportunities in other areas. It’s a great situation to be in.

A factory of goaltending. That’s the current state of the Columbus Blue Jackets. It starts with good scouting. It continues with good development. You put it all together and you get a model for how teams should build their goaltending. It’s no wonder the team believes they will be good for years to come. The depth of their goaltending has never been in better shape.

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