Three Questions: Daniil Tarasov Primed For Major Role In 2023-24? Can He Overtake Elvis Merzlikins? Will He Stay Healthy?

By Will Chase on August 25, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' Daniil Tarasov plays during the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Daniil Tarasov looks like the primary backup goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets heading into the 2023-24 season.

Over parts of two NHL seasons, Tarasov has a career ledger of 4-13-1 in 19 starts and 21 games. He has a 3.66 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. After playing in four games (three starts) in 2021-22, Tarasov played in 17 games and made 16 starts a season ago, going 4-11-1 with a 3.91 GAA and .892 SV%.

Over his brief tenure thus far, there were games where the young 24-year-old struggled but there were moments where he most definitely impressed.

Daniil Tarasov Primed For Major Role In 2023-24?

Tarasov will require waivers to be sent to the AHL's Cleveland Monsters; currently, he's the second option behind Elvis Merzlikins on the Blue Jackets depth chart.

With goaltending an obvious question mark, our Dan Dukart assessed the goaltender market with still many veterans available, particularly as a third option for the NHL club that can be stashed away in Cleveland. That list included:

  • Mike Smith
  • Brian Elliott
  • Jaroslav Halak
  • Cory Schneider
  • Anton Khudobin
  • Jonathan Bernier
  • Aaron Dell
  • Michael Hutchinson
  • Jean-Francois Berube

The Blue Jackets announced the signing of veteran backup Aaron Dell to a player tryout agreement on Wednesday. Dell has a career line of 50-50-13 in 130 games with 106 starts. He has a 2.92 GAA and .905 SV% and played in four games with the San Jose Sharks last season, making three starts, and going 0-3-0 with a 2.71 GAA and .913 SV%.

Any goaltender that earns a role within the organization in this capacity would be an insurance policy. Much like Hutchinson and Berube in recent years.

Hutchinson earned a significant role with the club after the trade deadline last season, going 2-6-3 in 10 starts for Columbus and appearing in 16 games. It was the most amount of games he's started and played in since 2019-20 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hutchinson had a 4.29 GAA and a .877 SV% in Columbus.

Berube had a role with the Blue Jackets in 2021-22 going 3-2-0 in six starts. He had a 4.12 GAA and .900 SV%.

Such as the case with Dell, there are a few names on the overall list that could be seen as veteran insurance but not much more than that. The lion's share of the net is Merzlikins' and Merzlikins will have every opportunity to recover his confidence after a tough season last year.

Columbus would have preferred for Tarasov to play most of his time in Cleveland last year to garner the necessary playing time at that level but injuries and struggles to the other goalies necessitated the Tarasov call-ups to the NHL. Then Tarasov suffered his own injuries which caused him to miss a large portion of playing time at the AHL.

For the Monsters last season, he played in 11 games and went 5-5-0 with a 3.85 GAA and .882 SV%.

Going back to his debut season in 2021-22, Tarasov has shown the ability to play at the NHL level in his limited experience. In four games (three starts), Tarasov was 0-2-0 with a 2.40 GAA and .937 SV%.

In his NHL debut against the Dallas Stars, he allowed three goals on 37 shots in a 3-2 loss for a .919 SV%.

In a follow-up game against the Washington Capitals, a 3-1 loss, he allowed two goals on 31 shots for a .935 SV%.

In the New Year's Day game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tarasov allowed two goals on 33 shots over 40 minutes before being pulled due to injury. The Blue Jackets had a 4-0 lead in that game after scoring three first-period goals before the Hurricanes stormed back for the 7-4 win.

From last season, a few Tarasov gems come to mind.

He earned his first career win on Oct. 23 at Madison Square Garden in a 5-1 win over the New York Rangers in which he allowed one goal on 31 shots.

Tarasov made a career-high 47 saves on 50 shots in a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Nov. 20.

On Nov. 28, he came up short in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in which he made 34 saves on 36 shots. Tarasov also had another sterling performance against the Stars on Dec. 19 in which he made 32 saves on 33 shots in a 2-1 loss.

Can He Overtake Elvis Merzlikins?

It's hard to consider Tarasov for the No. 1 goaltending spot on the roster for Columbus considering Merzlikins' contract. And the fact that Tarasov has such a limited number of games under his belt at the NHL level.

But as the primary backup on the depth chart right now, if Merzlikins struggles or misses games due to injury, Tarasov will be the guy to see the net on a regular basis, for however long necessary, unless struggles rear their head. Which would be a whole 'nother issue.

If Dell can prove himself on a PTO, he'd be an option for the Monsters and could gain NHL time as necessary. Jet Greaves is also an option on the farm but Columbus would prefer he garner enough playing time for Cleveland, alongside Pavel Cajan.

Coby Maeir wrote about Mike Babcock's radio interview with Common Man & T-Bone on 97.1 FM The Fan last week and they talked about Merzlikins and trying to get him right.

"(Merzlikins) hasn't been as good as (Merzlikins) can be," Babcock said. "So we got to get him playing the way he can," Babcock said. "Part of that is just getting the group organized in the (defensive zone) so the goalie knows where the puck is coming from. When you're disorganized, you don't have a clue. When you're organized, you know where the shot's coming from. You can be there and be square."

While Babcock's quote was specifically about Merzlikins, it speaks to the goaltending position in general and how the defense, and forwards, can make that role a little easier. 

Will He Stay Healthy?

The big question about Tarasov remains his availability. He was injured in the New Year's Day loss to the Hurricanes in 2022 and he had hip surgery in Feb. 2022.

Tarasov ended up as the surprise starter for the Blue Jackets' 2022-23 opening night game against the Hurricanes — a 4-1 loss — last year when Merzlikins was not available due to illness.

But continuing to deal with an assortment of lower- and- upper-body injuries during the 2022-23 campaign, Tarasov only played three games in the month of January: One at the NHL level at the Nashville Predators on Jan. 17 — a 2-1 loss — and two for the Monsters on Jan. 21 — a 9-0 loss in which he was pulled after four goals—and Jan. 22 — a 5-2 win.

Tarasov returned to game action on Mar. 1 for Cleveland after missing time with a lower-body injury but left his start for the Monsters on Mar. 26 with an upper-body injury and did not play again.

If the young Russian can stay healthy, he'll earn his chances. Coupled with Merzlikins' struggles, the Blue Jackets might toy with the idea of a 1A:1B timeshare until either goalie gains a stranglehold of the net.

Assuming health, Tarasov will have to prove he can remain consistent at the NHL level and string together solid starts. An improved defense would help anyone that's in the net.

With goaltending as arguably the biggest question facing the 2023-24 Blue Jackets, Niklas Backstrom is the guy in charge to help right the ship at the position. It helps that he already has a relationship with both Merzlikins and Tarasov.

If Tarasov can stay healthy, this will be his biggest year to date with a chance to prove himself to the organization.