Columbus Blue Jackets taking measured approaches with Korpisalo, Jenner in preseason

Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo is returning from hip surgery.
Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo is returning from hip surgery.

The good news for the Blue Jackets is that goaltender Joonas Korpisalo is back and that progress is being made daily in his return from hip surgery.

Korpisalo, 28, is encouraged by recent strides and can see the proof during video studies with goaltending coach Manny Legace. The problem is he’s not cleared to participate in scrimmages or preseason games, which means it’s unknown whether Korpisalo will be the Blue Jackets’ backup goalie to open the season Oct. 12 at Carolina.

“I’m just happy to be playing hockey and going out there on the ice,” Korpisalo said. “As I get better, I feel really good, right now, I feel some improvements from what I tried to do in the summertime. I can’t put a timetable (on it), but in my mind I want to play a (preseason) game. But you’ve got to be smart, too. I can’t really say anything about my schedule. I’m just going day by day and getting better.”

It’s been a long process getting to this point.

Korpisalo had a labrum in one of his hips repaired, which was the same thing Blue Jackets goalie Daniil Tarasov had done a month earlier. Tarasov, 23, is participating in scrimmages, will likely see action in preseason games and may be a full month ahead of Korpisalo in his recovery.

If so, there's a chance that Tarasov or Jet Greaves could start out in Columbus as Elvis Merzlikins' backup. Korpisalo may even need a stint on the injured reserve if he's not ready by the opener.

“I’m going to listen to my trainers and the doctors,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said when asked about Korpisalo's return timeline. “The last thing we want to do is set anybody back at this point after you go through a surgery like that.

"He’s progressing, he’s doing well, so … I’m not a doctor. I’m going to listen and if they tell me he’s ‘full go,’ great. If not, I’m just going to take their word for it, because I know (players want) to play. It’s not that they don’t want to. But I’ve got to be smart, too.”

Korpisalo said he dealt with pain in his hip the past four years. Facing an uncertain offseason as an unrestricted free agent for the first time, he opted to have it repaired and re-signed with Columbus on a one-year deal worth $1.3 million. The new contract buys him another season to prove his value at the NHL level and could lead to another opportunity to handle a starter's role.

Merzlikins is beginning the first season of a five-year contract extension signed prior before last year’s camp, so Korpisalo’s work is cut out if he wants that opportunity to be in Columbus. At this point, though, he’s just happy to be practicing again.

“It’s been a (tough) two, three years, and to be honest ... I have to show what’s up right now,” said Korpisalo, whose numbers plunged since starring for the Blue Jackets in 2019-20. “That was a long summer, I can tell you that. It’s good to be out there skating. Even though it’s just for a bit with the guys, it’s something … and I’m in a good place right now.”

Blue Jackets playing it safe with Boone Jenner

Another player being closely monitored is Boone Jenner, who missed the final 23 games last season with a back injury. The Blue Jackets’ captain went through a full practice to open camp, but didn’t participate in his group’s two scrimmages Friday at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.

Victor Rask, a veteran signed to a professional tryout offer, handled Jenner’s role as center of a line with stars Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau.

“We’re just being smart with Boone,” Larsen said. “He’s feeling great. We just want to be smart here with him.”

Cole Sillinger sat out scrimmages Friday and Saturday.
Cole Sillinger sat out scrimmages Friday and Saturday.

Blue Jackets' Cole Sillinger out with injury

Midway through the first practice of camp Thursday, Cole Sillinger left the ice after a collision and didn’t return. He also missed scrimmages Friday and Saturday. Larsen said the second-year center “tweaked” something and is day-to-day with the hope of returning "sooner than later."

Sillinger, 19, isn't the only former first-round pick dealing with a health issue. Liam Foudy, 22, isn't cleared for contact yet in the later stages of his recovery from shoulder surgery in March. He's only cleared to practice in non-contact drills starting out.

“We’re following the doctor’s orders on that, but he’s taking a lot of the different reps and things (in practices),” Larsen said. “He’s out of the scrimmages for now.”

bhedger@dispatch.com

@BrianHedger

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Blue Jackets trying to avoid setbacks with Korpisalo, Jenner