B- / 23rd overall
The Sergei Bobrovsky era is coming to a close in Columbus, but that might not be the devastating news it seems to be. The Blue Jackets have never been better stocked with goaltending prospects, two of whom are right on the cusp of beginning their pro careers. Elvis Merzlikins could very well assume Bobrovsky’s No. 1 job within a year, while Veini Vehvilainen could challenge him for starting duty in 2020-21. The Jackets are the only team in Future Watch with three goalies among their top 10 prospects. Who knows how long Daniil Tarasov will remain in Russia, but he could be the most talented of the bunch.
1. Liam Foudy (51st overall)
C, 19, 6-1, 182 – London (OHL)
2018 draft, 18th overall
Foudy is an elite skater, but the question is whether his hands can keep pace with his feet. If the answer is yes, Columbus is looking at a dynamic top-six forward, though he may end up on the wing at the NHL level. If not, they’ll have a third-liner with great wheels and decent skill. No shame there. Foudy has shown progress – he’s on pace for 40-plus goals and 70-plus points in the OHL. Another key will be his ability to add muscle to a lanky frame without losing his speed advantage.
FW18| n/a – NHL | 2021-22
2. Vladislav Gavrikov
D, 23, 6-2, 209 – St. Petersburg (KHL)
2015 draft, 159th overall
The Blue Jackets believed he was ready back in 2017, when he came to take a summer tour of Columbus. But then he signed a two-year KHL extension as a requirement to represent Russia in the 2018 Olympics. The wait is almost over. Gavrikov has never made a splash offensively, but sharp vision and puck movement are strengths, which will allow for an easier transition to the NHL. There is skepticism the shutdown defender will come over next season. But if he does, he could be a third-pairing ‘D’ right out of training camp.
FW18| No. 6 – NHL | 2019-20
3. Elvis Merzlikins
G, 24, 6-2, 180 – Lugano (Sui.)
GP 42, 2.45, .920
2014 draft, 76th overall
The future could arrive sooner than many expected for Merzlikins, who has been a dominant netminder on the world stage with his club team and country (Latvia). Even with Bobrovsky still around, Merzlikins could make his NHL debut in April. He has a big personality and an abundance of confidence. Three years ago, Merzlikins passed on a chance to come to North America, instead signing in Switzerland to coincide with Bobrovsky’s contract ending in Columbus. The gutsy move is about to pay off.
FW18| No. 10 – NHL | 2019-20
4. Gabriel Carlsson
D, 22, 6-5, 192 – Cleveland (AHL)
2015 draft, 29th overall
It’s been a backward slide for Carlsson since he first played as a 20-year-old in 2017 and was thrown immediately into a playoff series against Pittsburgh. He’s competed in just 15 NHL games since and is rarely discussed as a future fixture on the NHL blueline. There’s talent, to be sure, to go with a big frame and wingspan. But injuries have slowed his development. His lack of confidence shows up with huge gaps between him and onrushing forwards and some “baby giraffe” moments of uncertainty.
FW18| No. 1 – NHL | 2020-21
5. Daniil Tarasov
G, 19, 6-5, 183 – Neftekamsk (Rus.2)
GP 25, 1.71, .928
2017 draft, 86th overall
Columbus gambled by spending a third-round pick on Tarasov in 2017. He had missed the entire season with a leg injury that required surgery. But the long shot looks to be paying off. Of all the goalies in the pipeline, the long, lanky Tarasov may have the highest ceiling. He has been a dominating stopper in Russia’s minor league, and he fared well in a brief call-up to the KHL and at the 2019 WJC. He should be a KHL regular next season, moving one step closer to the NHL. He has the look of a future No. 1.
FW18| nr – NHL | 2023-24
6. Alexandre Texier
C, 19, 6-0, 182 – KalPa (Fin.)
2017 draft, 45th overall
Crazy-quick and skilled, but learning tough lessons in Finland’s top league.
7. Andrew Peeke
D, 20, 6-2, 210 – Notre Dame (Big Ten)
2016 draft, 34th overall
Well-rounded defenseman, but offense would bloom if he’d shoot more.
8. Emil Bemstrom
C, 19, 5-9, 190 – Djurgarden (Swe.)
2017 draft, 117th overall
Breakout player at world juniors flashed potential for high-end offensive future.
9. Veini Vehvilainen
G, 22, 6-0, 174 – Karpat (Fin.)
GP 35, 1.62, .931
2018 draft, 173rd overall
Could win a second championship in Finland before coming to North America.
10. Trey Fix-Wolansky
RW, 19, 5-7, 188 – Edmonton (WHL)
2018 draft, 204th overall
Short but solid winger putting up gaudy numbers. Great puck distributor.