The Columbus Blue Jackets will apparently have another name to consider in net next season. The Swiss Hockey News reports that young goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is expected to make the jump to North America next year. Merzlikins, 24, was Columbus’ third-round pick in 2014 and has been a standout member of the NLA’s HC Lugano ever since. The Latvian keeper took over Lugano’s starting job in 2015-16 at just 20 years old and has performed admirably. So far this year, he has been especially impressive; though 16 appearances, Merzlikins holds a .932 save percentage and a 2.19 goals against average. Fortunately for him, Merzlikins is in the final year of his NLA contract and is reportedly bound for the next level once it expires. Given his impressive performance, Merzlikins is likely to compete for the starting role with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and push for NHL appearances. With only Joonas Korpisalo and untested Matiss Kivlenieks under team control beyond this season, the Blue Jackets face questions in net moving forward and hope Merzlikins could potentially provide some answers.
- The Swiss Hockey News also relays the news that Dennis Everberg has quickly found a new home. Everberg cleared unconditional waivers and had his contract with the Winnipeg Jets terminated only this morning, but clearly had a new opportunity lined up. Everberg has signed with EV Zug of the NLA, with whom he is surely going to take a much larger role than he had relegated to the minors with Winnipeg. Ironically, Zug was in search of a top forward after another former NHL forward, Viktor Stalberg, departed the team for the KHL’s Avangard Omsk last month.
- Oskars Bartulis continues to make the most of his post-NHL career. A third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2005, Bartulis played in 66 games with the team but could never quite stand out. After spending much of his time in North America down in the AHL, Bartulis returned to Europe in 2012. Almost immediately, he began establishing himself as one of the top shutdown defenders in the KHL. Even thouhg his play has tailed off somewhat, Bartulis spent the last three years as the captain of Admiral Vladivostok and is still well-respected in the league. When he did not sign a new contract this off-season, there were questions about whether he was done. Yet, he’s back for another season at the age of 31. The KHL reports that Bartulis has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Kunlun Red Star and should fit in well on a roster that is chock full of talented former NHLers.
- On the other end of the spectrum, former top NHL prospect Zach Boychuk has been released from his contract with the KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets. Boychuk had been disappointing this year, with just four points in 25 games. In his first season with Severstal, the team was not willing to wait any longer to see if his play improved. The long-time Carolina Hurricane has been overseas for three years now and was very effective just last season with HC Slovan Bratislava. It remains to be seen what the next step is in the career of the capable forward.