Elvis has entered the building.
Nearly five years after being drafted in the third round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Latvian goaltender Elvis Merzlikins has signed his entry-level contract with the club.
The reigning Swiss League goaltender of the year and 1st Ohio Battery’s number three Blue Jackets prospect will now join the club as a potential goaltender of the future, with long-time starter Sergei Bobrovsky appearing to be on his way out this summer. While goaltenders are notoriously difficult to evaluate and project, he’s been called the best non-NHL goaltender in the world and has put up stellar numbers for HC Lugano over the last six seasons.
Im really excited to announce that I signed my first NHL contract I would like to thank my friends, my family, the fans for all the great support, the biggest thanks goes to @OfficialHCL for everything they did for me, especially for the growth since i was a little boy. pic.twitter.com/vfVbVN3zyc
— Elvis Merzlikins (@Merzly30) March 20, 2019
Due to his age (almost 25), Merzlikins' entry-level deal will only cover one year – this season – setting him to become a restricted free agent this summer. While he was previously expected to join the Cleveland Monsters on an amateur tryout agreement before beginning his ELC next year, he’ll stay with the Blue Jackets through the rest of this season. He will not be eligible to play for the Monsters, as he wasn’t under contract on Feb. 25, the AHL playoff eligibility deadline.
This does create a bit of an awkward situation for the Blue Jackets, who will now carry four goalies through the end of this season after acquiring Keith Kinkaid at the trade deadline. The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline published a piece earlier today that goes into detail on that point, as well as providing some insight into the negotiations between the two sides.
While he hasn't played in North America yet, he does have experience shining against NHL-caliber players, as his standout effort for team Latvia at last year's World Championships shows.
As it stands now, Merzlikins will likely burn his ELC without playing a single minute for the Columbus Blue Jackets, unless something goes very wrong (injuries) or very right (safely seeded heading into their regular-season finale).
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