Our prospects coverage continues this week with another 2022 first round pick of the Blue Jackets (6th overall), defenseman David Jiricek. Jiricek made the jump to North America post-draft, and while he started off quietly, he’s been coming on strong for the Jackets’ top affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters (AHL).
Jiricek was selected as the final piece of the trade that sent Seth Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks. After nabbing Cole Sillinger 12th overall at the 2021 draft, the Jackets had to be ecstatic to add a top defense prospect to a relatively thin system. Heading into the draft, I had my eye on Jiricek as possibly being the perfect selection with that sixth pick, and was quite happy when he was available.
Coming out of the Czech Republic, Jiricek is a bit of a throwback to defensemen of the 90s. He’s big, rangy, has a big shot, plays with a bit of bite, and has some offensive vision to his game as well. Overall, he’s an assertive player who likes to take charge of the play with or without the puck, and he’s proven capable of doing so with the North American style so far. In fact, one might say he’s thriving:
Though he started the season scoreless through his first two pro games, he came on strong with four assists over his next three appearances. With injuries at the NHL level, the Jackets gave Jiricek a look with the big club. He spent two games with the team but didn’t look ready, going scoreless and carrying a -4 rating.
Since his return to the AHL, he’s absolutely thriving. In 5 games since demotion, he has 3 goals and 4 points – good for a total of 8 points in 10 AHL games. It would be easy to say that production in the AHL doesn’t matter all that much, but this is a really good league, maybe the second best league in the world right now. And Jiricek is producing at nearly a point per game pace – at just 19 years old.
All of that said, the team has been careful not to recall him again, even with a glut of injuries on the main roster; even electing to recall Billy Sweezey and Tim Berni last week. I think this is a very wise move, and one that will pay off in the long run. He clearly wasn’t ready for the competition at the NHL level, and he’s getting heavy minutes in Cleveland right now; which is exactly what he needs.
I would expect Jiricek to remain in Cleveland for the duration of the season, barring the team having absolutely no other choice. He’s playing really well there, and should he continue to learn the North American game quickly, there’s no reason he shouldn’t compete for a roster spot next fall.
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