If there was a bright spot to emerge from the darkness of last season, it was perhaps the play of Joonas Korpisalo. He progressed rapidly from "that young Finnish kid whose name Tortorella cannot pronounce" to the keeper of the blue ice, when both Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney were down with injuries.
The 22-year old was thrown into the crucible without a lot of preparation or fanfare, being thrown into the NHL net during his first full season of North American hockey -- at any level. The 3rd round pick (#62 overall) in the 2012 Entry Draft had spent the previous two seasons in the top Finnish league, posting his best numbers in 2014-15, when he went 14-13-7 for Ilves Tampere, with a .919 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA.
During the 2015-16 campaign, Korpisalo appeared in 31 games for the Blue Jackets, posting a 16-11-2 record, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.60 save percentage. It was an impressive debut for the 6'3" goalie, who showed range, quickness and discipline in the crease — not necessarily an easy thing to do with a suspect defense in front of you. He also went 8-8-2 for Cleveland in the regular season, with a handy 2.36 GAA and a .913 save percentage.
The emergence of Korpisalo as a viable net minder at the NHL level came as a surprise, given his youth and relative inexperience at the pro level. Sure, he showed his inexperience at times, surrendering some soft goals from soft locations — ranging from the red line to the goal line. Yes, Joonas . . . they really do shoot from anywhere in the NHL. However, he showed the physical and mental abilities necessary to survive the position at the top level. Even though he was supplanted by a red-hot Anton Forsberg in the AHL playoffs, Korpisalo had shown that he could be relied upon at the highest levels. Given Bobrovsky's suspect health, that's an important fact.
Outlook for 2016-17
The goalie position will be under a microscope from the beginning of camp forward, and Korpisalo will be a big part of that process. While all of the attention in Cleveland was focused on Anton Forsberg during the Calder Cup run, Forsberg has yet to show the ability to handle the NHL level of competition, while Korpisalo has been there, done that. The #1 job is not in question, provided that Bobrovsky can show that he has both his confidence and his health well in hand. The Blue Jackets have invested in enhanced conditioning and training personnel, with Bobrovsky a prime focal point there.
The real question may boil down to McElhinney vs. Korpisalo. McElhinney is a team player, and can be serviceable in spots. However, he has the tendency to let the puck get by at precisely the wrong time, and does not figure in the long term plans for Columbus. It might be better to put him in a mentoring role for Forsberg in Cleveland, and let Korpisalo get 30 games or so with the big club. That would give Bobrovsky the rest he needs, and help continue the maturation process for Korpisalo. It's a good problem for the Blue Jackets to have.