The Blue Jackets are taking the long view with Joonas Korpisalo.
Make no mistake: he has performed admirably – and, at times, brilliantly – in his nearly three-month stint at the NHL level. His NHL debut against Tampa Bay on Dec. 14 seems ages ago, and there’s no denying how much he has grown in such a short time frame and under difficult circumstances.
But there’s a reality involved, too: Sergei Bobrovsky (who is unquestionably the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 goaltender) is on the verge of returning, and once he does, the net belongs to him. On the other hand, Korpisalo is still a kid and at a crucial stage of his career where he needs to play.
At the crux of the team’s decision to assign Korpisalo to the Lake Erie Monsters on Wednesday was just that: the most important thing for him at this juncture is to get regular playing time, and with the Monsters in a heated postseason chase, he has a terrific opportunity to dive in head-first.
“His development is very, very important to our organization,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com earlier today. “We need to keep him playing. He needs to play. He’s going to help Cleveland, there's no doubt in my mind. This was the plan for him all along and he’s got a chance to help them make a big run in the playoffs.”
Korpisalo certainly made a name for himself during his first NHL stint. In his last 19 starts (since Jan. 13), he posted a 13-3-3 record with a 2.28 goals against average and an impressive .929 save percentage.
He earned the right to be the Blue Jackets’ de facto No. 1 goalie while Bobrovsky recovered, but now that the No. 1 guy is back, Kekalainen remains committed to doing what’s right for the player and his development.
“Instead of sitting here and opening the door, he’s going to be the guy for Cleveland and have a big responsibility there,” Kekalainen said. “We’re really excited about where he’s at and what he’s done here. He got better and better, and that’s a really good thing for him and for us.”
This is hardly uncharted territory for young goaltenders; Cory Schneider spent significant time in the AHL despite some success at the NHL level before becoming an established NHL goaltender. The same goes for Anaheim’s John Gibson, who has shuffled between the AHL and NHL and was recently named to Team North America (Under-23) for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
And according to Kekalainen, Korpisalo is on board with the plan and looking forward to helping the Monsters in their playoff push.
“(Korpisalo) is a young player who understands what this is all about,” Kekalainen said. “The last thing we want is for him to get stale, sit on the bench and watch Bob play. This is the right move for him and his development, and he understands that.”