In drafting David Jiricek with the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets immediately and dramatically transformed their defensive prospect depth chart.
Let's be honest, most of us haven't seen a ton of film of Jiricek, with him playing pro hockey in his native Czechia for HC Plzeň. But with the help of InStat, a wonderful video analysis tool, I was able to clip some of his more memorable - and hopefully most insightful - moments (note: he wears #5 in most videos, #45 in some). I chose to break this segment into three parts - breakouts, goals, and assists - and offer commentary on each of them.
The breakouts in this first video are all even-strength plays in which Jiricek successfully maneuvers the puck out of his zone, either skating it himself or (more often) exiting the zone with a pass. They each came from his past 10 games, all played in either April (the Euro Hockey Tour) or May (the IIHF World Championships).
The first that jumps out to me in watching these clips is his size. For a 6'3" skater, he's deceptively shifty and twitchy in a way that is rare for a big man. Playing exclusively in international play against other National Teams, he displays a lot of confidence and poise. He goes with his first read, finding his target like a quarterback who spots his first read and hits him on time. And, even at 18, he's clearly physically mature and is not afraid in the slightest of taking contact before making the correct play. His passes are crisp, and he makes the right read most of the time.
There were a few things that I would like to see him develop in his game, the first being a technical fix and the second being a philosophical adjustment. It's nitpicky, but he sometimes finds himself stationary when receiving an initial pass and is reluctant to get moving up ice (2:36 is the most glaring example). Other times, he does a great job moving north/south (3:08 is the best example). The other change I'd like to see is him becoming more involved in the attack after making that first pass. I am not privy to Team Czechia's systems, so it's possible that the coaching staff didn't encourage him to jump in the play, but in the modern NHL, he'll be asked to become a fourth player on the rush. I didn't see much of that in his breakouts (0:55 is the most obvious example of him not joining an odd-man rush).
Here's The Athletic's Scott Wheeler's breakdown in his final draft ranking:
He’s a strong and sturdy defender who ... thrives in transition with his ability to lead a ton of rushes as a puck transporter. Offensively, he’s also a capable handler and distributor whose point shot is complemented by an aggressive approach.
Let's get to that point shot, which Wheeler calls "one of — if not the — hardest point shots in the draft".
Jiricek has a bomb of a slapshot, a ridiculous one-timer, and is comfortable walking the blueline before slinging a wrist shot through traffic. While I wish he would be more involved in the offense after breakouts, he does a good job of staying engaged in the attack in the offensive zone. Several of his goals came after picking off a pass and then attacking downhill. Others showed off his patented one-timer. My favorite was at 1:30, where he absolutely wires a puck over the sliding goalie's blocker. Just a perfect shot. And while it was kind of a greasy goal, I was really pleased with his goal at 0:35, where he puts a nice inside/outside move on his check before circling the net.
That finally brings us to his assists. I'll admit that, when starting this project, I had some assumptions about the rangy defenseman. Being a high-end prospect, I presumed that his skating would be excellent. I thought his shot would be an asset. But I had no idea what to expect from his playmaking. Turns out, he's a really creative and deceptive player, often putting his opponents in compromised positions before feeding a teammate for an easy goal. My two favorite examples of this are at 0:14, where he has his shot blocked, then shows elite poise and patience before sliding it over to his teammate for the one-timer goal. Then, at 1:13, he uses his powerful slapshot as a decoy, winding up before softly laying a tape-to-tape pass to his teammate cross-crease, who scores.
Jiricek comes as advertised. It's not often that an 18-year-old right-handed defenseman comes along with high-end skating ability, a bomb of a shot, underrated playmaking skills, and solid offensive instincts. I'll be watching his game closely to see how he handles other areas of his game, namely, rush defense against quicker/more dynamic players. But so far, there doesn't seem to be much the Czech-born defenseman can't handle.