It's not exactly breaking news to suggest that the Blue Jackets will have a different look when they take the ice in October.
And while the Blue Jackets had their franchise-best season before Artemi Panarin played for the club, the same cannot be said of their two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky almost certainly leaving, the Blue Jackets will have a new look in goal, and with that, a new feel to the team.
Will the team re-sign Keith Kinkaid, the soon-to-be-30-year-old unrestricted free agent (UFA) who the Blue Jackets traded for at the deadline as an insurance policy they never cashed? What about Joonas Korpisalo, the familiar face who's been a backup for four seasons? Or could it be one of the three prized goalie prospects the Blue Jackets have signed this spring to entry-level contracts (ELC)? It's too early to say. Regardless, we're here to help you familiarize yourself with the contenders – and pretenders – who will vie for playing time in Bobrovsky's absence.
Age 29 | New Jersey Devils (NHL) | 15-18-6 | 3.36 | .891
It would be a mild surprise if the Blue Jackets brought back Kinkaid, but stranger things have happened. The logic is that Kinkaid would be the steady veteran (he's played 151 NHL games) that would be there to help a younger goalie learn the ropes. The Blue Jackets could find a better goalie in the UFA market, though, if they prefer to go the master/sensei route.
Age 25 | Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) | 10-7-3 | 2.95 | .907
Chances are you're familiar with Korpisalo, the 25-year-old Finn. He's never been given a true shake at the No. 1 job, but then again, he hasn't exactly earned it, either. This past year, he started the season opener and was playing quite a bit, but his .897 save% leaves a lot to be desired. His save% has steadily declined since he entered the league, and it's hard to argue that he's more than a replacement level goalie at this juncture.
Korpisalo's situation is a bit nuanced. He's a restricted free agent (RFA) on July 1, so the Blue Jackets will have the ability to retain his rights should they desire. But if they choose to go with the next guy on this list, perhaps the 6-foot-3 former third-round pick is traded for draft help. That would open the door in a big way for...
Age 25 | Lugano HC (NLA) | 22-18-0 | 2.44 | .921
The Blue Jackets and Merzlikins have been playing a long game of chicken for some time now. Case in point: it's no coincidence that Merzlikins' contract with Lugano of the Swiss-A League expired at the same time as Bobrovsky's. The Latvian is widely considered one of, if not the, best goalies outside of the NHL, and the Blue Jackets signed him to a one-year, one-way contract that makes sense for both parties earlier this spring.
The 25-year old, who stands 6-foot-2, appears to have the inside track for the starters net in 2019-20, but that's no guarantee. Remember, he's never faced so much as a competitive shot in North America. The third-round pick from 2014 and Korpisalo would be a bold tandem for a team that is very young and could get younger. But as it stands today, these are the two starters.
Age 22 | Karpat (Liiga) | 25-8-5 | 1.58 | .930
When Jarmo Kekalainen selected his fellow Finn with the 173rd overall pick (sixth round) of last year's draft, it was almost immediately hailed as a savvy pick. One year later, it's aged well. On Tuesday, the Blue Jackets signed the 6'1 netminder to a two-year ELC. It is wildly unlikely that he cracks the NHL roster over Merzlikins, but there appears to be an agreement in which the Finn will be loaned back to Karpat of Liiga, the top pro league in Finland, should he fail to make the team. That's worth noting, as he would not be down the road dressing for the AHL Cleveland Monsters.
Many fans see Vehviläinen's stat-line and wonder why he isn't considered the superior prospect to, say, Merzlikins. After all, he's younger, playing in a better league, putting on better numbers, and has played for (and one won) two league championships in the past two years. The short answer is two-fold. At 6-foot-1, he's small for today's goalie (that pains me to write). That isn't to say it can't be done, just that he'll have to be nearly flawless, technically speaking, to be a starting NHL goalie. The other is that his club, Karpat, is loaded. They finished the regular season with 137 points, while the next closest team had 108. It's hard to know how much of his success is his team's success, but still, he's an interesting prospect to keep an eye on – now and in the future.
Age 20 | Ufa Salavat Yulayev (KHL) | 0-1-1 | 2.86 | .917
Tarasov, who grew up in the same town as Bobrovsky, could be the crown jewel of the bunch. He played the majority of this past season in the MHL, Russia's second highest level of professional hockey, though he did play two games in the KHL. The Blue Jackets recently signed the 6-foot-3 Russian to a three-year ELC. It hasn't been announced if he's coming to North America, but if he does, it will almost certainly be to play with the Monsters. He's probably a few years away from making an impact, but the former third rounder is definitely a player to keep in mind down the road.