David Jiricek Is Rightfully Frustrated With Latest Demotion To The AHL

By Dan Dukart on January 29, 2024 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Jiricek skates against the Minnesota Wild
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline published a piece detailing Columbus Blue Jackets prize defense prospect David Jiricek's frustration with his latest demotion to the AHL.

As Portzline said, "The Blue Jackets’ handling (mishandling?) of rookie defenseman David Jiricek has raised eyebrows all season, and it reached a boiling point this week." He called the relationship "strained". SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman called it "a problem. A big problem" on Monday's 32 Thoughts Podcast. 

That big problem is because Jiricek doesn't trust the Blue Jackets to do right by him. And how could you blame him? Just look at the below timeline and his comments to Portzline. 

“I played good hockey in the NHL. I’m an NHL player right now. That’s my opinion, that I should be in the NHL right now. I see guys from the same draft, like Simon Nemec (in New Jersey) and (Kevin) Korchinski (in Chicago) … they get a chance on the power play. They play a ton of minutes in the NHL. Those are different teams, so different situations, but I can compare with them. I just want a chance to play like that.”

For those keeping score, the 20-year-old - who was told to get a place in Columbus - has now been sent to AHL Cleveland for the fourth time this season. Portzline said that there was "concern that Jiricek might consider not reporting to Cleveland", and suggested that it's "unclear" what Jiricek will do next.

“They told me the last game was not good enough for me,” Jiricek said. “I told them I don’t think so, but that’s your opinion. I was out of the lineup after that. A whole month now, it feels like I haven’t played.”

The problem, of course, is the inconsistent messaging from all levels of the organization. GM Jarmo Kekalainen told Portzline that "It’s best for his development to play against NHL players and practice against NHL players. He’s already proved that he’s a very good player in that league." But then turned around and said, "...but if he’s not playing here, he needs to play in the American League because he needs to play.”

Yeah, man. He needs to play. In the NHL. You just said that. Not neither, at the same time.  

“Having said that, we’re trying to build a 200-foot defenseman, an elite defenseman who will play heavy minutes against top opponents. In order to do that, he needs reps. For him to develop those skills, the best way to do it right now — having been in the NHL for 36 games — this (the AHL) is the best route for him.” - Kekalainen

Why, then, would the organization tell him to get a place?

“In November, I started looking for an apartment in Columbus,” Jiricek said. “The dream was coming true.”

Now he’s living in a Cleveland hotel while his Columbus apartment sits empty, he said.

“The guys here in Cleveland are awesome. The coaches are awesome,” Jiricek said. “It’s fun to be here now, because there’s a lot of winning. There’s a good energy. But still … this is not what I want, right?”

It's not only Kekalainen, though, making peculiar comments. Pascal Vincent said “I think he needs a little bit of stability" and "I don’t see a downside to it (the demotion), myself.” Later in the piece, Vincent compared Jiricek to ... his 13-year-old daughter, implying that he's impatient.

“I get it. My daughter wants her own car. She’s 13 years old. It’s the Amazon effect. Everybody wants it now.”

Yeah, stability would be good. Not seeing a downside is either lying or negligent. And I don't think Jiricek is being impatient. He's being honest that he doesn't trust the organization's guidance. They've been consistently inconsistent. Friedman suggests he isn't buying what the team is selling. 

Why would they call him up before the Western Canada trip, only to scratch him and then send him down? As Jeff Svoboda posted, part of the demotion was to help increase his confidence. Can't imagine why he lacks confidence. 

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I have zero issues with Jiricek playing in the AHL. There's a strong argument that he should spend the entire season there over-ripening in a very good league on a team with actual aspirations to win hockey games. But the constant yo-yo'ing is not good for his development. It's not good for his confidence. Simply put, it's not good for him. 

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