The Blue Jackets are also blessed with two near-NHL ready top prospects on defense. While I don’t see both of them making the opening night lineup, I think either one could steal a job out of camp – even with the team’s suddenly strong depth.
David Jiricek was the sixth overall pick at the 2022 NHL Draft for a reason. He’s big, he’s mean, he can skate, he has a booming shot, and he has the toolbox to put it all together. He started off extremely strong in the AHL last season, and even though his production tapered off towards the end of the season, he was named an AHL All-Star and finished third in scoring amongst rookie blueliners.
His production is really impressive when you consider the fact that he was only 18 years old when the season began – two years younger than both of the guys who finished ahead of him. With that said, he looked like a teenager in his brief appearances in the NHL. That’s not entirely his fault – the Jackets were a mess last season, they were disorganized and there wasn’t much help for him.
Jiricek looked really solid in his two games in Traverse City last weekend, even scoring a nifty goal off of an Adam Fantilli setup. The Jackets added some depth on the right side this summer to buy more time for him, which will make cracking the lineup even tougher – but they will not hold him back if he’s ready. Chance Jiricek is on the team: 50%
Moving over to the left side of the defense corps, I think there may be potential for a shocker here. Something I’ve been thinking about this summer is that third defense pair: is Jake Bean really willing or suited to accept that role? Hear me out for a second: Bean was a first round draft pick back at the 2016 NHL Draft. He was struggling a little bit in Carolina, so the team took a second round pick for his services from the Blue Jackets two summers ago. Since then, his results in Columbus have been … mixed.
There are times when Jake looks like he could be a top-four guy, especially with the puck on his stick. There are other times when he looks lost, especially in the defensive zone. Not being able to stay healthy has certainly been one issue; while not having a consistent partner hasn’t helped. But, is it possible that his struggles could open the door for a young upstart named Stanislav Svozil?
The Jackets were extremely lucky to be able to pluck Svozil in the third round of the 2021 NHL Draft. He had grades in the late first/early second round, but I think a lot of teams were leery of picking a guy they had limited viewings on. Let’s not forget: we were coming out of the COVID year, so scouting was really hard for a couple of years leading up to that draft.
After being selected, Svozil came to North America and played two seasons of junior hockey with the Regina Pats (WHL). In 115 WHL games, he scored 21 goals and 98 assists for 119 points – absurd numbers for an import defenseman in that league. Now, it’s true that he played on a team boasting some guy named Connor Bedard; but still, nobody else was putting up those numbers on that team, so clearly, there’s something here from a productivity standpoint.
Svozil also acted as captain for team Czechia at the 2023 World Junior Championships; winning the honor ahead of fellow Jacket prospect David Jiricek. The one concern I had with him was the tendency to make the occasional glaring mistake, but in his two games at Traverse City, I didn’t see him moving out of position to make a play or throw a big hit. He’s a flashy defenseman, and we’ll love him for that. The only thing we need from him is to pick his spots better … if he can do that, he’ll be a standout player in the NHL, for sure. I thought he looked pretty close to ready over the weekend, and he has the potential to sneak onto the team. Chance Svozil is on the team: 49%