As I dive deeper into analyzing the early part of the season, one thing stands out: even though he’s young, David Jiricek has been a huge difference maker for the Blue Jackets.
Recalled by the team yesterday, the soon-to-be 20 year old certainly looked the part in his earlier stint with the club. He scored 1 goal and 3 points in 10 games, averaging 13:34 per game and holding an even +/- rating. He was mostly paired with Ivan Provorov on the second defense pair, but without any special teams time (hence the lower TOI per game).
It certainly wasn’t perfect for him. You can see the mistakes here and there as he adjusts and learns to play at an NHL pace. This is something that all young players typically have to go through at one point or another – especially defensemen. But Jiricek impressed me because I didn’t notice him making the same mistake twice. And, he kept his head up and remained confident throughout. These are encouraging signs with a young defenseman.
As I continued to work through the numbers, something caught my eye. The team has performed much better overall with #55 playing, than they have without; especially defensively. With Jiricek in the lineup, they hold a 4-4-2 record, with 26 goals for (2.6 per game) and 31 goals against (3.1 per game). Without? They’re 0-3-2, with 15 goals for (3.0 per game), and 22 against (5.5 per game).
Now, it goes without saying that there are 18 players on the ice on any given night, and there have been changes to the lineup in pretty much every game for this team so far. Everyone contributes to that overall goals for/against average. But, I thought that the team looked more stable with Jiricek on that second pair, than they have with any other player playing top-four minutes. These numbers somewhat support that – the team is giving up fewer goals. It’s also worth noting that they haven’t won a game without him in the lineup.
His transition game helps this team, and that’s an area that they’ve been getting killed in all season so far. He’s able to break up offensive attacks and turn the play quickly in the other direction. This hasn’t given him big counting stats (goals/assists) so far, but it’s a huge help to the team overall, as they continue to figure out the system.
It will be interesting to see if Jiricek gets back into the lineup again right away. If he does, I’ll be following along closely to see if the team improves in its goals against average again, with him back on the ice. My guess is, they’ll do just that.