Monsters’ Great Season Good News for Blue Jackets

The Cleveland Monsters had a season they won’t soon forget.

From postponed games to several other situations involving Covid-19 protocols, the Monsters had to overcome a series of serious challenges in order to complete this season. Not only did they complete this season, they enjoyed a great deal of success thanks to a bevy of good stories playing out.

With a final record of 16-10-1-2, the Monsters finished second in the AHL’s Central Division behind the Chicago Wolves. With just 29 games completed, they were among the teams with the fewest games played in the AHL. Their .603 points percentage put them into second despite both Grand Rapids and Iowa finishing with more points.

The Blue Jackets Need Good News

With everything that’s going on with the Columbus Blue Jackets, they could use any and all good news. This Monsters’ season has provided the team with some much needed good news thanks to some standout performances.

The Blue Jackets have a ton of questions to answer, many of which won’t be known for some time. They have multiple openings on their coaching staff. Their most important player (Seth Jones) is mulling over if he wants to talk massive extension this offseason or not. And we haven’t even begun discussing how they’ll fix center ice.

Seth Jones Columbus Blue Jackets
Seth Jones is mulling over if he wants to talk extension this offseason. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those situations will come into better focus at some point down the road. For now though, we will reflect on the completed Monsters’ season and call out some standout performances. Some of these performances could be indicative of what’s eventually coming to the Blue Jackets in future seasons. Let’s start with the big story especially late in the season.

Daniil Tarasov Shows His Upside

The numbers for Tarasov aren’t going to wow you. He did just get to North America not that long ago after all. But it’s how he’s handling his business that should excite Blue Jackets’ fans.

Tarasov appeared in six games for the Monsters this season, going 4-2-0 with a 3.16 goals-against and .896 save percentage. Knowing that he is learning the North American game and going through that development, he showed some encouraging things in net.

First, Tarasov’s as advertised when it comes to his size and athleticism. His 6-foot-5 frame helps him cover a ton of net. He is very hard to beat from in close as a result. Once he starts to adjust to the angles better and the mentality that shooters here have of shooting from almost anywhere, this part of his game will be a tremendous asset in the NHL.

Athletically speaking, Tarasov can go side-to-side quickly while using his reach and flexibility to be an imposing force. He certainly does resemble a lot of what fellow countryman Sergei Bobrovsky is. He can make tough saves look easy thanks to his size, but can also make highlight-reel saves when needed.

Friday night in Cleveland did show that Tarasov is very much still learning. The Griffins got three of their goals off of tipped and deflected shots. As good as he is up close, he has work to do understanding the shooters here while making sure he’s in better position to make these saves. To his credit, he got the start Saturday night for the rematch and stopped 40 of 42 shots in a tough-luck loss.

Tarasov’s coach Mike Eaves called out one specific thing when talking about what has impressed him about the goalie in the early going. It was Tarasov’s ability to bounce back after a difficult stretch. For a young goaltender to be able to move on from a mental standpoint bodes very well for his future.

Tarasov’s Immediate Future

As for his immediate future, Tarasov won’t need waivers. That will allow him to freely go between Cleveland and Columbus in the 2021-22 season. While I don’t expect Tarasov to immediately win a spot as the one or two with the Blue Jackets, it easy to see him as the three which will allow him to start in Cleveland and then come up in case of injury.

But soon enough, we are looking at the Blue Jackets’ goalie of the future in Tarasov. The debate between Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins is getting attention and rightfully so. The general belief is that Tarasov has the highest upside of the three. With that in mind, do not be surprised if we are recapping multiple trades and/or situations involving the Blue Jackets’ goalie especially if Tarasov is ready sooner than expected.

I expect one of Korpisalo or Merzlikins to be traded by the team this offseason. I also expect Matiss Kivlenieks to be the backup to start. He will be the goalie exposed to Seattle for the expansion draft. But given who is currently available on the Blue Jackets (Dean Kukan, Eric Robinson), I would be surprised if the Kraken go after Kivlenieks. That leaves Tarasov third in the rotation should it work out this way. If he’s the goalie of the future, eventually other moves/transaction decisions need to happen.

Matiss Kivlenieks Columbus Blue Jackets
Matiss Kivlenieks will presumably be available in the expansion draft should Seattle be interested. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The takeaway for now is that it will be worth watching Tarasov’s development moving forward. His progression could directly affect not only how the goaltending in Columbus will shake out, but how quickly it will shake out. Only time is separating Tarasov from a potential spot in the Blue Jackets’ crease as their clear-cut number one.

Tyler Angle Shines

Quick question. Who led the Monsters in points this season? If you look at the above heading, you have your answer. Angle finished the season with a team-high 11 goals and 24 points. That’s not bad for a rookie and a seventh-round pick in the NHL Draft.

Angle’s emergence is nice to see. He showed flashes in Windsor to show he was worthy of a shot at the next level. The Blue Jackets gave him a chance and he has run with it. What’s been most impressive is the impact he’s had on different parts of the game.

Among Angle’s 11 goals, he had three power-play goals and one shorthanded goal. He also had a +8 which was third on the team. Considering his rookie status, Angle may have had the best season of anyone on the Monsters. He finished with better than a point per game (24 points in 23 games.) Had he played the same number of games as the players ahead of him on the rookie scoring list, he might be challenging for the league lead.

What does that mean for Angle’s future? It says he will get a look in Columbus at some point. This rookie production is hard to ignore. Did the Blue Jackets find a hidden gem in the draft here? At least in the early going, things are looking up. I expect him to take the next step with the Monsters next season but will be considered for call-up duty especially if he keeps the production up.

Tyler Angle Cleveland Monsters
Tyler Angle enjoyed an excellent rookie season for the Monsters in 2020-21. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Don’t forget Angle’s name. This season put him on the Blue Jackets’ map for the future.

Other Noteworthy Items

  • Of all skaters who appeared in 10 or more AHL games this season, nobody had a higher points per game mark than Liam Foudy at 1.33. He finished with 16 points in his 12 appearances. He’s a big part of what the Blue Jackets hope to do moving forward. That’s become a team known for its speed.
  • Carson Meyer was almost as impressive as Angle in terms of the numbers. He finished with 20 points in 26 games and led all Monsters with 69 shots on goal. So that’s nice. He could get a shot with the big club next season as he is under contract and would be an RFA once that expires.
  • Josh Dunne has had a whirlwind of an early pro experience. He got his shot with the Blue Jackets where he left an impression in his short time. Then with the Monsters, Dunne recorded 10 points in his 15 games but is full of confidence. He’s a contender for a roster spot with the Blue Jackets in the fall. Interesting player.
  • There was quite a moment Friday night in Cleveland. Brett Gallant was called for 12 minutes of penalties and the entire Monsters bench stood up and starting tapping their sticks. Those PIMs made Gallant the franchise leader all-time for PIMs. His influence goes way beyond the ice. He has the ultimate respect of his teammates. He also has a fan in coach Eaves. Eaves considers Gallant “like another coach”. He also praised Gallant for how smart of a player he is despite his reputation as a fighter. “Between the ears” is how Eaves described it when indicating how smart Gallant is.
  • In the end, what an accomplishment for the Monsters to complete their season despite all of the challenges they faced. Credit to Eaves and his coaching staff for keeping everyone ready while trying to figure out what all was going to happen. Anyone who went to Columbus after appearing in a game this season for the Monsters all said the same thing. They praised the staff for keeping them ready and having them prepared to help the Blue Jackets when they got their chance. Eaves isn’t getting enough credit for the job he’s done in his time since replacing John Madden behind the bench. This season only proves that. The right man is behind the bench for the Monsters and its influence is being felt in Columbus.