Columbus Blue Jackets: Could Curtis McElhinney Be a Late-Bloomer in Goal?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 13, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Goaltender Curtis McElhinney #31 of the Anaheim Ducks warms up prior to the start of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on September 28, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

If the 2012-13 NHL season had begun as planned, the Columbus Blue Jackets would be banking on a pair of uncertain under-25 netminders to stabilize their crease in Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky.

As it happens, the lockout is casting light on one more potential option in a 29-year-old journeyman, Curtis McElhinney.

A veteran of 69 NHL games with four different organizations, McElhinney is charging up his best professional numbers and bolstering a pleasant surprise in Springfield, which has not seen AHL playoff action in a decade.

McElhinney will enter this weekend’s action with the AHL’s third-best goals-against average (1.92) and save percentage (.940). In addition, he boasts the vast bulk of the credit (13-2-2) for the league’s best record (14-4-4 for a .727 winning percentage).

It is safe to assume that McElhinney will soon see his heaviest single-season workload in any league since he made 41 appearances with the Quad City Flames in 2007-08. Barring a catastrophic crumble, he will have a chance to surpass his performance in 2006-07, when he stamped a 35-17-1 record coupled with a 2.13 GAA and .917 save percentage.

By staying on this reckonable pace and delivering at least a little vindication to a long-suffering Falcons fanbase, he ought to write himself in as a third-party candidate for Columbus’ crease.

While it might be premature to make any firm assertions, McElhinney’s transcript is looking as good as any other options for the Blue Jackets.

Mason, who has kept away from extramural action during the lockout, still has yet to follow up on his rookie season in 2008-09, which was also the only time the Columbus franchise has seen postseason action. Since then, he has posted successive single-season save percentages of .901, .901 and .894 and failed to bump his GAA below three.

Bobrovsky’s outlook is ambiguous, at best. For a time, he appeared to be the logical goalie of the future in Philadelphia, but he was then swapped to Columbus this past summer after a sophomore slump, wherein he posted a .898 save percentage and a 3.05 goals-against average in 29 ventures.

As it happens, he is passing the time during the lockout in his home country’s KHL and currently bears an irreproachable 12-2-2 record with a .918 save percentage and 2.35 GAA. And, naturally, he is competing against dozens of fellow established NHLers and other NHL-caliber talent.

Perhaps the change of scenery, coupled with his skill-honing KHL stint, will make Bobrovsky the solution, though nothing is guaranteed and that still does not yield an answer for Mason. It is always ideal to have two reliable netminders immediately available.

Enter McElhinney, a most welcome third option, if need be.

From his personal winning percentage to the caliber of opposing talent, McElhinney and Bobrovsky are not far apart in the early going this season. The AHL, too, is dense with would-be NHLers for as long as the parent league is idled.

The Falcons have Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen testing McElhinney in practices and warm-ups. Divisional and regional rivals have included Jordan Caron, Sean Couturier, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Dwight King, Chris Kreider, Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Nolan, Brayden Schenn and Slava Voynov.

All of that emboldens the credibility of the Springfield stopper’s stat line just a little more.