Blue Jackets’ Injuries Give Jean-Francois Berube Another Chance

The Columbus Blue Jackets have had quite a few goaltending struggles this season, however, they now face a slightly different issue. Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo are both out due to recent lower-body injuries and third-choice goaltender Daniil Tarasov has been out indefinitely since the beginning of January. As a result, the team has been forced to call on the next-man-up who is Jean-Francois Berube.

Who is Jean-Francois (J.F.) Berube?

Berube is a name that might be familiar to some NHL fans. He was originally a draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2009. He stayed in their farm system between the American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL until he moved to the New York Islanders organization following the 2014-15 season. With the Islanders, he still wasn’t an NHL regular as he bounced between Bridgeport and Long Island. However, that two-year stint gave him the majority of his NHL starts. Over the course of two seasons, he played a total of 21 games in the NHL.

J-F Berube Columbus Blue Jackets
J-F Berube, Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After the 2016-17 season, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights selected Berube as a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) and eventually signed a two-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. He played a total of 13 games with the Blackhawks and spent the majority of his time with the Rockford IceHogs. After one season, he was flipped to the Blue Jackets for center Jordan Schroeder.

Following a single season as a member of the Cleveland Monsters, Berube signed with the Philadelphia Flyers for 2019-20 however he was traded mid-season to the New York Rangers and spent some time with the Hartford Wolf Pack. For the next season, he signed an AHL contract with the Ontario Reign which at the time seemed to signal the end of his chances at the NHL level. The Blue Jackets then invited him to their training camp for the current 2021-22 season, where he performed well enough to earn a one-year, NHL/AHL contract.

What To Expect From Berube

Since his time in Chicago, Berube has become a stalwart of the AHL but hasn’t been able to make an appearance in an NHL game until tonight. He’s never been phenomenal at the NHL level, however, but he has had his moments. In his career, he has a record of 9-10-4 which although a losing record, isn’t far off of .500. Unfortunately, his record is his best statistic. He has a career .898 save percentage (SV%) alongside a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.39 with zero shutouts.

Berube’s AHL stats are certainly better, with a winning record and SV% above .900. However, even at that level, his numbers haven’t been great recently. He has had a losing record at every stop since Hartford, and he’s been sub-.900 consistently during the same time frame.

What Do the Blue Jackets Need to Do to Succeed With Berube?

The most important key to success with a goaltender like Berube is solidifying defensive play. The Blue Jackets defense has struggled mightily when it comes to keeping the puck out of the net. As a result, all of their goaltenders have had some very rough games this season. While a player like Merzlikins can overcome that type of play to an extent, not everybody is able to do so. Brad Larsen will need to make sure his defense stays back and avoids joining the rush too often. In this type of game, odd-man rushes can be disastrous. Teams will try to get as much pressure on the goaltender as early as possible and overpower him, so suppressing shots and keeping the defensemen in position will be more important than ever.

Daniil Tarasov
Berube has spent most of the season as the backup to Daniil Tarasov in Cleveland. Photo: (HC Salavat Yulaev)

Second, even if Berube only starts one game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Blue Jackets have to approach the game like they’re facing a top team in the league. Although they’re not high in the standings, the Sabres can be very dangerous at times. Especially when you consider that the Blue Jackets only have nine more points than them to this point in the season. They have some forwards who can perform when needed, like Jeff Skinner against the Montreal Canadiens last week. If you under-estimate any team at this level they can make you pay, however, they’re far more likely to do so with an AHL goaltender between the pipes.

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