The Columbus Blue Jackets goaltending situation isn’t a cause for much concern. 2017 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the best in the league right now, and Joonas Korpisalo has been relatively reliable in his tenure as backup. But who’s next on the list?
Prior to the off-season, it was Anton Forsberg, who spent the majority of the 2016-17 season with Columbus’ AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters. This summer, Forsberg was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of the Artemi Panarin deal. This leaves many Jackets fan wondering who that number three goaltender is, since that player is just one injury to Bobrovsky or Korpisalo away from being called up to the Jackets roster. Luckily for Columbus, they have several options.
Columbus Blue Jackets Goaltending Depth
Columbus’ number three spot will most likely be occupied by veteran Brad Thiessen. Undrafted, Thiessen played for several years in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Following a brief stint in Finland and a one-year contract with the Calgary Flames, the Blue Jackets invited Thiessen to training camp on a professional try-out contract. Since the 2015-16 season, Thiessen has played for both the Cleveland Monsters and the ECHL’S Cincinatti Cyclones. In 2016-17, Thiessen posted a .924 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against-average in 12 games with the Monsters.
Though Thiessen has struggled to find a permanent job at the NHL level, he has been above average in his two seasons with the Monsters. Based on his past performance, he is more than capable of taking on the starting job in Cleveland. However, Thiessen’s age is slightly concerning. At 31, Thiessen is not a long-term solution. The organization will have to look elsewhere for the future of goaltending in Columbus.
In the preseason: Thiessen has played just two periods for the Jackets so far this preseason, starting in net for the September 20 contest against the St. Louis Blues. In those 40 minutes, Thiessen allowed two goals on 25 shots for a .926 save percentage.
Latvian Matiss Kivlenieks signed a three-year entry level contract with Columbus after an All-Star season in the USHL. In 2016-17, Kivlenieks posted a .932 save percentage and 1.85 goals-against-average in 49 games with the Sioux City Musketeers. Kivlenieks was named the USHL’s Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year and led the league in wins, GAA, and SV%. He has also represented Latvia on an international stage.
While 21-year-old Kivlenieks shows promise, he is untested at the NHL or even the AHL level. Kivlenieks will likely start the season in Cleveland as backup to Thiessen. The two may even share a 1A/1B goaltending situation depending on Kivlenieks’ performance. Despite this, it is very unlikely that Kivlenieks will see any NHL action in the 2017-18 season.
In the preseason: Kivlenieks’ first preseason appearance came in the Jackets September 19 game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Kivlenieks entered the game in relief of Joonas Korpisalo, who gave a dismal performance in the Jackets preseason opener. He stopped all five shots he faced in the third period. Kivlenieks was also in net for the third period on September 22 against the Pittsburgh Penguins; he was less successful, allowing two goals on eight shots for a .750 save percentage.
Ivan Kulbakov signed an AHL-only deal with the Blue Jackets only deal this summer. Kulbakov spent the 2016-17 season with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, posting a .919 save percentage and 1.93 goals-against-average in 52 games with the team. Prior to his stint with the Phantoms, Kulbakov had played only in his home country of Belarus, representing them in several international competitions.
As with Kivlenieks, what Kulbakov lacks is experience. With only one season in North America under his belt, 21-year-old Kulbakov may need some time before he is ready to play a significant role in the Blue Jackets organization. Fans can expect to see Kulbakov in the net for the Monsters from time to time, put the majority of the goaltending work in Cleveland will most likely be carried by Thiessen and Kivlenieks.
In the preseason: Kulbakov has played just one period for the Jackets this preseason, finishing the September 20 game against the Blues. Kulbakov stopped all six shots he faced in the third period, but ultimately allowed the game-winning goal to Vladimir Tarasenko in overtime. His time in net resulted in a .889 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against-average.