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Jackets have a decision to make with Ouellette among goaltending logjam

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets aren't just deep in goal throughout the organization - they are ripe with young, highly-thought-of goaltenders who are going to need playing time in the coming years.

Keep in mind that their No. 1 goaltender and reigning Vezina Trophy winner, some guy named Sergei Bobrovsky, is only 25 years old and hasn't yet entered the prime of his career. He's under contract for one more season (and will remain a restricted free agent after that), and it's safe to assume that Blue Jackets management will start thinking about an extension for Bobrovsky sooner rather than later.

Curtis McElhinney signed a one-year deal last summer to be Bobrovsky's backup, and the 31-year-old veteran will be an unrestricted free agent on July 5. The two goaltenders behind him - Mike McKenna and Jeremy Smith - played well for Springfield this season but both are on one-year contracts and there's been no indication of their future with the organization.

After that, the goaltenders get really young.

Oscar Dansk, the Blue Jackets' second-round pick in 2012, is coming off a tremendous regular season with the Erie Otters (OHL), who had a breakout season of their own. Not unlike the Otters as a team, Dansk did not have a stellar postseason and didn't get a regular start in the playoffs.

Then there's Joonas Korpisalo, the young Finnish netminder who played for a handful of teams this season and is considered to be part of the next wave of quality Finnish goalies. He, like Dansk, signed his entry-level contract with Columbus during the 2013-14 season but the Blue Jackets aren't ready to divulge their plans for these two young goaltenders.

"I think we have a pretty good plan (for the young goaltenders) but we're going to keep that close to our vest for now," Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told "We have Dansk and Korpisalo under contract now - we still have to make a decision on Ouellette - so we have a lot of goalies that we need to find different spots for.

"We're going to make sure we have everything in order before we discuss those decisions."

The looming decision to make is on Martin Ouellette, whom the Jackets drafted in the seventh round back in 2010. The 6-foot-2 Quebec product did not get much playing time as an underclassman at the University of Maine, but in his final two seasons, Ouellette settled in to the No. 1 role.

Ouellette made 64 starts over the past two seasons (2.42 and 2.29 goals against averages, respectively) but has not yet been signed by the Blue Jackets. The team has an August 15 deadline to sign Ouellette before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. 

Also in the fold is Anton Forsberg, a seventh-round pick in 2011 who has consistently improved since his draft year. The Blue Jackets signed the 21-year-old Swedish goaltender to his entry-level deal earlier this year, and after finishing the season with Modo in Sweden (2.44 and .920 in 22 professional games) he joined the Springfield Falcons.

That's where it gets a bit tricky for the Blue Jackets when they try to assemble the pieces for 2014-15: each of Dansk, Forsberg and Korpisalo are under contract starting next season and are eligible to play in the American Hockey League right away. Is there room for Ouellette, or might they have to go in a different direction?

As the Blue Jackets' offseason unofficially gets underway, this is one of many story lines to keep a close eye on.

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