David Jiricek, 6-3, 190 pounds
HC Plzen (CZE)
1st round (#6 overall), 2022 NHL draft
Playstyle comparisons: Moritz Seider, Shea Weber
NHL upside: Top pairing defenseman
Professional ETA: 2023
Shock and awe might be the best way to describe the top of the 2022 NHL Draft, but unlike in 2016, it wasn’t due to the selection made by the Columbus Blue Jackets. In this case, the Jackets marched onto the draft stage and made the clear and obvious pick, selecting big defenseman David Jiricek with their sixth overall selection.
Coming off of a season in which he missed significant time due to knee surgery, Jiricek was once thought of as the clear top prospect amongst defensemen in this year’s draft. While his modest 5 goal, 11 point output in 29 Czechia league games might not scream top NHL prospect, it’s important to note that it’s a low scoring league, and he played amongst men. On the world stage, Jiricek was a minute muncher who played in all situations and proved productive against his peers.
Already with an NHL frame at 6-3 and nearly 200 pounds, Jiricek gets around the ice with surprising mobility and is a competitive player in all situations. Offensively, he has a cannon of a shot, but also showcases soft hands and a knack for finding open space on the ice. Defensively, he can use his reach and vision to break up plays and create transition – or lay the boom and throw a huge check. He has a wide range of tools and a good hockey mind, which makes him a solid all-around player.
While I don’t expect him to make the Blue Jacket roster this fall, Jiricek has plenty of options at his disposal. He could return to Czechia and continue his development overseas, playing amongst men. He could take his talents to the junior level – his rights are owned by the Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – where I think he would likely dominate the competition. Or, since he’s a player drafted out of Europe, he could even be sent to the Cleveland Monsters (AHL).
Fortune often favors the bold, but in this instance Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff made the safe pick. Jiricek does have a high ceiling and could be a top pairing defenseman – but I think at the very least, he will play in the NHL in some capacity, and give the team more depth on the blue line. The beauty of the situation here is, with the young depth already in the NHL and in the system, they don’t need to rush him to the NHL.
Jiricek just might be NHL ready for the 2023-24 season. But an extra year of seasoning is often the difference between a player turning into a second tier guy – or an NHL star. After scoring big with a forward in the top-10 (Kent Johnson) in 2021, the Blue Jackets come away with one of the best defense prospects they have ever had. With all of the attributes you need in a high end defenseman, the sky is the limit for David Jiricek.