The Columbus Blue Jackets are getting healthier. Patrik Laine and Elvis Merzlikins have both been activated from injured reserve, with Daniil Tarasov loaned back to the AHL to make room. The move suggests both will be ready to return tomorrow against the Winnipeg Jets.
Laine, 24, has played eight games this season between two separate stints on IR and has just two goals so far. The Finnish sniper signed a four-year, $34.8MM deal in the offseason that secured his future with the Blue Jackets, and put him in line for a career year across from newcomer Johnny Gaudreau. Things haven’t gone according to plan, with Laine and a huge chunk of the Columbus roster spending more time on the shelf than the ice.
For Merzlikins, things haven’t gone well even when he was healthy. The 28-year-old netminder posted a .864 save percentage through nine appearances, his last coming on November 15. He has recorded a performance above .900 just once this season, and has allowed at least five goals in four of nine games. If the Blue Jackets have any chance of climbing back into the race, they need Merzlikins to find the level of play he showed as a rookie, when he finished fifth in both Calder and Vezina voting.
Coincidentally, Tarasov has actually been much closer to those numbers this season, posting a .912 in six appearances. While the team has faith in Merzlikins as the starter, they shouldn’t hesitate to go back to the young Tarasov if the former continues to struggle.