Elvis Watch is over.
Elvis Merzlikins, the Blue Jackets' most NHL-ready goalie prospect, appears headed to North America to continue his professional career.
The heir apparent to Sergei Bobrovsky, the 24-year-old has been excellent in his professional career for Lugano of the NLA (Swiss National League) and in the World Championships for Latvia. His season with Lugano recently ended with a sweep in the league playoffs, and he's free to sign with the Blue Jackets.
It's long been expected that, as soon as Lugano's season finished up, he would sign with Columbus and made his long-awaited arrival in North America.
Who is this guy, you might ask? He's a spark plug. With a ton of talent.
The below video, from the 2018 World Championship's, show Merzlikins' Latvia team nearly beat the deep United States team, featuring Cam Atkinson (who was robbed several times in the first minute of this video alone).
Atkinson coincidentally scored the game-winner, which prompted Merzlikins into a fit of rage. It prompted this comparison:
G Elvis Merzlikins was so upset after US OT win on Atkinson goal that he declined media requests & apparently began throwing things around the locker room.
Latvia coach Bob Hartley: "It's his passion ... he reminds me a lot of Patrick Roy. There's sparks in his eyes."#CBJ
— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) May 10, 2018
The Blue Jackets organization has been excited about getting their former third-round pick (#76 overall, 2014) to come to North America for some time now, but the Latvian goalie has bided his time in Switzerland for a few years, possibly in part as he had hoped for a clearer path to a starting role with his NHL club. He'll have that sooner rather than later, in theory, assuming Bobrovsky tests free agency this summer.
His club team, Lugano, qualified for the playoffs as the seven-seed after a furious late-season push, but was ousted in four straight games to EV Zug, the second best team in the NLA.
With Elvis Merzlikins team eliminated from Swiss playoffs, look for #CBJ to get him signed, his immigration papers in order and the goalie on the ice with the Monsters as soon as possible.
— Tom Reed (@treed1919) March 17, 2019
He's expected to join the Cleveland Monsters, who are in their own push to the Calder Cup Playoffs. He won't be guaranteed ice time, as the battery of JF Berube and Brad Thiessen have taken this team to the brink of the playoff, though neither have been particularly stellar this season.
With Keith Kinkaid as the organization's current no. 3 behind Joonas Korpisalo and Sergei Bobrovsky, it makes little sense to bring Merzlikins to Columbus for the playoff push, but crazier things have happened. More than that, though, is that for all of Merzlikins' successes, he's never played a competitive hockey game on the smaller North American ice, and he will almost certainly need time to acclimate himself to a new game with less reaction time and different shooting angles. The Blue Jackets already have had their fair share of goalie drama this year, and it's hard to believe they'll add to that.
In his six seasons playing for Lugano, Merzlikins posted a .920 save percentage or better four times, and his worst statistical season saw him post a still-impressive .913 sv%. He's played in the World Championship's three times, and he tallied a .912, .937, and .940 sv%, in those three tournaments.
The Blue Jackets have known for some time that they found a diamond in the rough, and have been waiting patiently for him to come to North America. Now that he's all but in Ohio, the new wait is on to see if Merzlikins can become the NHL caliber goalie that he's expected to become.
No pressure, kid.
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