On Wednesday, the decision was made to demote Elvis Merzlikins to the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL and to promote Matiss Kivlenieks in his stead.
Without context, it's a surprising move, but it makes sense for both the Blue Jackets and the Monsters. For starters, Kivlenieks is off to a terrific start this season, posting a 5-1-1 record, a 2.37 GAA, and a .909 sv%. Merzlikins' game has seemed to stabilize in the games since the debacle against the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing reasonably against the Chicago Blackhawks, in relief against the Edmonton Oilers, and most recently against the St. Louis Blues. He's still looking for his first career NHL win, but more pressing, he's looking for ice time.
And despite all of the Blue Jackets problems - power play, offensive stars not scoring, defensive players struggling - Joonas Korpisalo's pedestrian numbers have been improving as of late, with solid performances against the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights. A little run support would go a long way.
The Monsters, winners of their last five games, will play their next three games in Cleveland, Friday and Saturday night against Laval (Montreal) and Tuesday against Grand Rapids. Surely it would make sense for Merzlikins to play two of these three games (if not all three?), with all due respect to another prospect, Veini Vehvilainen, who has been even better than Kivlenieks (3-2-0, 2.02 GAA, .932 sv%).
Similarly, the Blue Jackets are embarking on a three-game road trip with sufficient time in between each game. Korpisalo could easily handle the workload, and if he were to be injured, the Blue Jackets would have ample time to make a move to promote Merzlikins, should they wish to make that move. But because of the timing of the Blue Jackets' games, it's possible that Merzlikins will just meet the team after the Monsters' two weekend games against Laval (note: could he play against the Montreal organization on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday nights?).
Told #CBJ demotion of Elvis Merzlikins to @monstershockey is simply for him to stay active. Dont think he packed a large suitcase, as hes likely to meet the club on road trip either in Denver (maybe) or Montreal (more likely). Could get in a couple of games w AHL Cleveland.— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) November 6, 2019
It's a nice sub-plot to the story, but don't sleep on Kivlenieks. He's been on a ridiculous upward trajectory. In 2013, the youngster left Latvia to play in the lesser-known MNJHL, a Minnesota-based junior league. Two seasons later, he parlayed that into a stint in the NAHL (Tier 2) then to the USHL (Tier 1), where he was named MVP in his lone season. Undrafted, he signed a professional contract with the Blue Jackets, a rare career trajectory to be sure. He went straight to the AHL, where he battled high-level hockey and injuries in 2017-18 and 2018-19. But this year, he's been excellent.
#CBJ goalie dev coach Jim Corsi on Kivlenieks: "He has all the skill and quickness of a top-notch goaltender. With time, he'll become a high-end guy."— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) November 6, 2019
While it's unlikely that Kivlenieks will make his NHL debut during this promotion, it's possibly a sign of things to come. And while Merzlikins likely isn't going to stay long in the AHL, it's a win-win for both players, and for the organization as they continue to develop their impressive depth at the goaltender position.