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2022 Midseason Grades: Defensemen and Goaltenders struggle to find consistency

For a team second-worst in the league in goals allowed per game, not a lot of bright spots to find halfway through the year.

Florida Panthers v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

The Columbus Blue Jackets, now 43 games into their season as we have arrived here at the All Star Break, sit firmly in 5th place in the Metropolitan Division with 41 points. That they are not lower in the standings speaks only to how catastrophic the seasons of the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils have gone thus far.

As we are (roughly) halfway through a tumultuous season - one broken up by COVID outbreaks, schedule reshuffling, injuries, and a surprise suspension - we felt it would be prudent to look back on the first half of the year and assess how each player is faring thus far this year.

First up - the defensemen and goaltenders.


Defensemen

Zach Werenski

Stats: 41 games played, 6-19-25, 26:04 TOI, 51.0 CF%

Werenski, the Blue Jackets’ only All Star this season, certainly looks capable of handling the number one defenseman role that he was granted after the departure of Seth Jones. Werenski is shouldering the heaviest minutes of his career, is on pace to best the highest point total of his career, and has positive shot metrics despite a career-worst 4.7 shooting percentage. Werenski has certainly been the best defenseman this season.

Grade: B+

Jake Bean

Stats: 41 games played, 4-11-15, 21:14 TOI, 46.9 CF%

Bean, acquired last summer via trade from the Carolina Hurricanes, has contributed offensively but frequently (and rightfully) criticized for his defensive play and how often he loses puck battles. Bean could use a summer in the weight room to be better equipped physically to compete in corners, and also needs to refine his offensive game to showcase his talent. There’s something there, but it’s currently lacking any polish.

Grade: C-

Vladislav Gavrikov

Stats: 41 games played, 2-16-18, 21:24 TOI, 46.3 CF%

Gavrikov, traditionally a stay at home defenseman, is currently tied for his career best in points with 18. Among the injuries, absences, and rotations, Gavrikov has not managed to find any consistency with a partner (though he cannot be faulted for others missing time). Gavrikov remains a physical presence on a club sorely lacking that aspect in many key areas. He’s been a steady presence on the back end has been welcome relief.

Grade: B-

Adam Boqvist

Stats: 30 games played, 7-7-14, 17:03 TOI, 49.7 CF%

Whatever weight training program Jake Bean is on this summer, Adam Boqvist should probably join him. Added as part of the return for Seth Jones last summer, Boqvist is just 21 years old and still developing as an NHL defenseman. He, like Zach Werenski before him, is immensely capable on offense but needs to develop the defensive part of his game. Hopefully we can see that as he grows in Columbus.

Grade: B-

Andrew Peeke

Stats: 43 games played, 1-9-10, 19:40 TOI, 44.6 CF%

He has the worst on-ice CF% of any of the defensive regulars, but it’s hard to be disappointed with Peeke’s first real run with regular playing time in his NHL career. He’s been asked to play significant minutes for the first time, all throughout the lineup, and has looked comfortable. He is physically capable of playing the role, just needs to refine the finer aspects of his game to continue developing into a capable NHL defenseman,

Grade: B

Gavin Bayreuther

Stats: 23 games played, 0-7-7, 14:39 TOI, 48.9 CF%

Selected by the Seattle Kraken and then left unsigned, Bayreuther came back and is earning consistent playing time as the seventh defenseman on the roster. He’s been … fine, if you kinda squint your eyes. He’s not being asked to play tough minutes, at 27 is unlikely to develop much further as an NHL player, but is capable in a pinch. He, like Scott Harrington before him, is likely a AAAA player rather than NHL lifer, but he’s putting in a solid shift for a rebuilding organization.

Grade: D

Gabriel Carlsson

Stats: 18 games played, 1-3-4, 12:10 TOI, 47.7 CF%

A former second round pick, Carlsson is playing a role like Bayreuther - a serviceable player in a pinch who is likely to never crack the Blue Jackets as a regular NHLer. Carlsson has not been asked to do much, playing extremely sheltered minutes with 59% offensive zone starts and an on-ice PDO of 104.1, highest among still-rostered players, but he’s a capable third pairing player on a rebuilding team. He likely won’t be much more than that, but he’s fine right now for what the team needs.

Grade: D

Dean Kukan

Stats: 11 games played, 1-1-2, 15:13 TOI, 46.7 CF%

Kukan, who used to play the role now occupied by Gavin Bayreuther, is kind of on the outs in the organization. He’s missed time as a result of a broken wrist and, in the final year of his contract extension, may be fighting for a spot that isn’t there. He’s never really had consistent runs in the lineup, but hasn’t set the world on fire when he’s gotten ice time. Kukan will likely be gone at the end of the season - how much he plays before that is up in the air.

Grade: D

Jake Christiansen

Stats: 3 games played, 0-0-0, 10:29 TOI, 46.7 CF%

Christiansen made his NHL debut this season, playing three games in the midst of the Blue Jackets’ COVID outbreak. He filled in admirably before being sent back to the AHL, but looked at least capable in his limited action. Hard to ask for much more than that.

Grade: C

Big picture: it’s hard to fault the Blue Jackets defensemen for what ails the team - there’s a lot of lapses and just no cohesion with the forwards, which seems like a system/coaching issue rather than individual catastrophic mistakes. Also, as we’ll get to, they’re getting absolutely zero help from the men in net.

Goaltenders

Elvis Merzlikins

Stats: 26 starts, 14-12-1, .905 SV%, 3.39 GAA, 2 shutouts, 13 quality starts

Elvis, fresh off of signing a five year extension this past offseason, has been nothing short of disappointing this season. He has gotten pulled four times, allowed 4 or more goals on 12 separate occasions, and has 13 games with a sub-.900 save percentage. He, quite simply, is not playing to the standard we have seen him play to. The team gets hemmed in defensively frequently, and Elvis often faces a shooting gallery, but he needs to find some measure of consistency that hasn’t been there this year.

Grade: C-

Joonas Korpisalo

Stats: 14 starts, 6-8-8, .887 SV%, 3.82 GAA, 0 shutouts, 5 quality starts

Among goaltenders with 300+ minutes played this year, Korpisalo is second-worst in the NHL in GAA, third worst in goals saved above average, third worst in save percentage, and the combination of his play and the goaltending market have sunk any perceived trade value he might have had ahead of what is likely his final trade deadline with the club. With Merzlikins extended and Tarasov on the way, it’s likely that Korpisalo is squeezed out this offseason. Korpisalo’s season has been a total disaster.

Grade: F

Daniil Tarasov

Stats: 3 starts, 0-2-0, .937 SV%, 2.40 GAA, 0 shutouts, 3 quality starts

Tarasov has been the lone bright spot in net, even if he only got a few chances. Tarasov looked quite comfortable in net and, even though he didn’t get a win while he was in Columbus, looked every bit the bright rising future goaltender that fans have been promised. Expect to see Tarasov in Columbus soon rather than later in a consistent role.

Grade: B+