Blue Jackets’ Tarasov Needs to be Backup Goaltender in 2022-23

The Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in an odd predicament when it comes to their goaltending depth. It appeared to be a strength prior to the 2021-22 season, however, it turned out to be one of their greatest weaknesses. Although it was fairly obvious going into the season that the organization viewed Elvis Merzlikins as the number one goaltender, there was also optimism that Joonas Korpisalo would bounce back and be a serviceable backup for his long-time team.

Goaltending During the 2021-22 Season & Into the Future

Not only did Korpisalo fail to do so, to the point where he wasn’t even moved at the trade deadline, but Merzlikins also failed to live up to expectations. The Latvian had a down season; however, there’s reason to believe that he’ll be back to his previous form going forward. He’s the undisputed starting goaltender and the organization has put a considerable amount of faith in him.

Korpisalo on the other hand isn’t in as forgiving of a situation, as he’s back in the organization on a fairly inexpensive one-year deal which will take him once again to unrestricted free agency. He was given the opportunity to fight for a starting role during the 2019-20 season and performed fairly well, although far from great. The following two seasons were disastrous for the Finnish goaltender who failed to keep his save percentage above .900 in either season. While neither campaign was ideal, the 2021-22 season was undoubtedly the worst in his career to this point. Over the course of two seasons, he’s fallen from a valuable asset who could be in talks for a starting job around the league to a fringe player with no guarantees of a future in the NHL once his current contract expires.

Tarasov Time

The forgotten player following Korpisalo’s recent one-year contract extension would be Daniil Tarasov. He played limited NHL games last season but was certainly the most impressive goaltender who took the ice for the organization, even in a small sample size. When given an opportunity, he made the most of it but unfortunately, his season was cut short by a hip injury on New Year’s Day against the Carolina Hurricanes. He only made four appearances in the NHL, three of which were starts, but he didn’t have a single bad game while with the Blue Jackets.

Daniil Tarasov Columbus Blue Jackets
Daniil Tarasov, Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Emilee Chinn/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the American Hockey League (AHL), Tarasov struggled a bit, however, the Cleveland Monsters were one of the worst teams in the league during the 2021-22 season, so it makes sense that a rookie goaltender would struggle. Prior to that, he had only played six games in North America, which were also with the Monsters during the 2020-21 season. Earlier during the same season though, he had a solid campaign in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.

Related: Tarasov Primed to Become NHL’s Biggest Goalie Bargain

If he’s healthy, Tarasov is more of an asset than Korpisalo, not only going forward but it appears he’s already more valuable at the NHL level if things continue to follow the same pattern as last season. An argument can certainly be made that he had a lucky run during his first stint, however, he’s traditionally performed better in more difficult leagues. He somewhat struggled in the Russian VHL and Finnish Liiga, which are difficult leagues in their own right, but as soon as he got an opportunity in the KHL, he shined instantly. He seems like a player who thrives with the spotlight on him and in high-pressure situations. Although there’s still quite a bit of unknown considering he hasn’t had the smoothest transition to North American hockey, he certainly has potential and seems ready to make an impact in the NHL if given a chance.

The only reason the Blue Jackets would be justified in starting Tarasov in the AHL is if he’s unavailable to start the season due to extended recovery from his hip surgery and Korpisalo finds his game in the meantime. Otherwise, he is younger and ready for the next step in his career. The organization has already committed to him for the next three years, so they may as well rip off the bandage and give him a chance to hit the ground running in the NHL as soon as possible.

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