If current playoff hero Sergei Bobrovsky does indeed leave the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent this summer, they are lining up options to help replace him in net. After signing NLA star Elvis Merzlikins to his entry-level contract back in March, the Blue Jackets have now locked up another of their young European goalie prospects. The team has announced a three-year entry-level deal with Russian keeper Daniil Tarasov, set to begin in the 2019-20 season.
Tarasov, 20, was a third-round pick by Columbus in 2017 out of the top Russian junior league, the MHL. Tarasov was a consensus top-five goalie in his draft class, but immediately proved that he likely should have been selected earlier. The 6’5″ behemoth took the league by storm in 2017-18, posting a .928 save percentage and 1.85 GAA in 40 games. This year, he left the junior level behind and put up even better numbers in 25 appearances in the minor league VHL. He also made two appearances in the KHL with Salavat Yulaev Ufa and many expected that he would play for Ufa again next season. That won’t be the case though. Tarasov is taking the opposite approach of Merzlikins, a fellow Columbus third-rounder who took his time developing overseas, instead opting to make the jump at a very young age for a goalie.
More likely than not, Tarasov is several years of AHL (and possibly some ECHL) play away from pushing for an NHL spot, but stranger things have happened. The Blue Jackets currently count existing backup Joonas Korpisalo and new addition Merzlikins as their top options heading into next year, assuming both restricted free agents sign extensions. Tarasov and Matiss Kivlenieks would be next in line if no other changes are made. Columbus still has one other option in Europe who could come over in Finnish standout Veini Vehvilainen, who is considering making the move if he is allowed to compete for NHL time. Vehvilainen or a trade or free agent acquisition could push Tarasov further down the depth chart and into ECHL territory next season, but at just 20 years old he has plenty of time to continue growing and proving that he is a future NHL talent.