What if I told you that you could have a 26-year-old goaltender who previously had not played a game in the National Hockey League, would start his career losing eight consecutive games, and finish his first season losing seven of his final nine appearances? Would you be interested?
Do You Know Who I Am?
Well, welcome to the strange, but the oddly successful world of Elvis Merzlikins! A relatively unknown talent born in Latvia and formerly of the Swiss-A team, Lugano. Merzlikins was drafted in the third round (76th overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He would go on to post solid numbers across the board for his club Luga over the following five seasons, starting in over forty games each year.
You Gave Me A Mountain
At this stage, the hype had been real for those who were on the inside and had seen Merzlikins play. He was expected to come up through the system and one day take over the Columbus crease. There was always one thing that stood in his way: all-star netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Elvis would have to understandably take a backseat to Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky was seven years his senior with the Blue Jackets and had been posting consistently glowing numbers during his tenure in each of his years. When you factor in the current backup goaltender at that time, Joonas Korpisalo, you come to realize that Merzlikins may find himself on the outside looking in for a while longer.
All Shook Up
But all things changed and turned the life of Elvis Merzlikins and the Columbus organization upside down in 2019. Bobrovsky, along with fellow teammates Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel decided to test their skills elsewhere and hit the open market. The Columbus organization as a whole tried to entice Bobrovsky to stay, but to no avail. Most people had no idea at the time, but this just opened up the door for a young man hungry to show his talents to the organization on the professional stage. This would, of course, bring plenty of Elvis Presley memes as well.
Don’t Be Cruel
As originally stated, the beginning to his NHL career was less than eventful and had some people questioning what the hype had really been about? Including Colombus head coach, John Tortorella. Who had been on record as saying:
“I think he has a chance to be a really good goalie judged on what everyone is saying about this guy; I haven’t seen it yet. I have certainly seen improvement in him, but he needs more opportunity to show what he can do.” also noting “I think Elvis is very shaky early on in his starts he gets, I am being very honest about that.”CBJ Radio 12-20-2019
A Little Less Conversation
Well, the opportunity came knocking shortly after this interview in December. Joonas Korpisalo (now the number one netminder after Bobrovsky’s departure) was injured in the very next game and Columbus had no choice but to turn to (the winless) Elvis Merzlikins from here on out.
What happened next was nothing short of miraculous! A goaltender who had been questioned if he was ready to compete at this level. A goaltender who had not won a single game in his first eight attempts. A goalie who was a complete unknown essentially prior to this year outside of those within the organization. A goalie whose own head coach had concerns about. Took off!
A Little More Action
Over the next 14 games, Elvis went on a streak of epic proportions, recording 12 wins including an unbelievable five shutouts within that time frame! The man who few knew or paid attention to as he began his professional hockey league journey was now the most talked about and well-perceived goaltender of the year.
As is with most things in life, there are ups and downs. When following this fabulous streak of winning and shutouts, Merzlikins faltered once more and finished the shortened season with only 2 wins in his last 9 appearances. Korpisalo came back from his previous injury and showed everyone he was ready to take back over the net and have the reins once more.
Where Do I Go From Here?
The question for next season is; Which Elvis will we see moving forward? Will we see the Elvis with all that hype stopping seemingly every shot that comes his way? Will we see a goaltender not yet ready for a full NHL campaign and costing the team games with his questionable play?
One thing is for certain, having two potential starting goalies is a good problem to have considering Columbus lost 2-time Vezina winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, to free agency just last off-season. Former back up goaltender Joonas Korpisalo is now an all-star candidate alongside the aforementioned Elvis Merzlikins. I for one am excited for the future of both Elvis and the Columbus Blue Jackets and we will have to wait and see how they continue to build as the years’ progress.
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