Many are the teams searching for everlasting stability on the blue line. As Montreal Canadiens fans, we just witnessed player after player waltz through our lineup. Injuries to 2021 mainstays Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Joel Edmundson, combined with the February departure of Ben Chiarot, meant that a lot of players best suited for AHL or partial NHL duty suddenly were thrown into heavy-minute roles on a consistent basis.
You can argue that this is a sink-or-swim type of possibility for any player to thrive or dive in. Thus, you can get a quick look at which players are able to rise to the occasion when given an unexpected opportunity.
However, my main point with this more philosophical start to our draft coverage this historic year when the Canadiens went from a Stanley Cup appearance to being the worst team in the league, is that you can never have enough quality defencemen on an NHL roster. Guys who can log big minutes night in and night out, who can be trusted both on special teams as well as at five-on-five, are not easy to find without paying a premium. That being said, getting a top-four defenceman on a rookie deal would mean that resources can be allocated elsewhere for at least a couple of years.
If you want this kind of steady, solid, minute-munching defenceman with your first-round draft pick this year, you may want to look toward Eastern Europe and take a swing at Czechia’s most talented defenceman since Jakub Zboril.
Birthplace: Klatovy, Czechia
Date of birth: November 28, 2003
Weight: 190 lbs.
Team: HC Škoda Plzeň (Extraliga)
Yes, I understand if you may find it slightly amusing when I draw comparisons to Zboril, a guy most famously known for being one third of the Boston Bruins’ back-to-back-to-back selections of him, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn with players like Mat Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot still on the board, but the fact is that Zboril remains the only Czech defenceman drafted on Day One since 2005. That will change this year.
What better way to get an impression of Jiříček than listening to Eyes On The Prize’s former prospect guru David St-Louis as he gives his impression on one of the top-ranked defence prospects of this year’s draft.
As you can both hear and see through the video, Jiříček gives off a more polished impression than what is usually the norm for an 18-year-old defenceman playing in a pro league. Sure, the Czech league has tumbled in quality since the turn of the century, but Jiříček demonstrates an unusual mix of skating, size, and poise for such a young man.
Unfortunately, he has been out since January with a knee condition, having injured his ligaments during the World Junior Hockey Championship back in December. However, EP Rinkside’s Marek Novotny recently posted a Twitter report about Jiříček being back out on the ice. If everything goes according to plan, he should make his comeback during the senior World Championship in Finland this month.
Team Czech Republic General Manager Petr Nedvěd on David Jiříček: "David plays high-quality hockey and is the future of our blueline. The remaining 5 games will decide if he is ready to play at the World Championship in Finland."#2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/vhXyxmxPxF— Marek Novotny (@MarekNovotny96) April 28, 2022
He may not be flashy or spectacular in the offensive zone, but you need guys on your team who can log 20-plus minutes per night for 75 to 100 games per season, and Jiříček could provide you with exactly that.
Much like Alexander Romanov, he relies on his acceleration and physicality to track down opposing forwards and pin them to the boards. He can transport the puck up the ice and start attacks from the back, just don’t rely on him to be your power-play quarterback.
Instead, a man advantage unit built with David Jiříček would focus on his hard right-handed shot and giving him the space to unleash it from the point. Much like former/current Canadiens captain Shea Weber, the slapshot is his weapon of choice in his offensive toolbox.
This is not the only similarity the Czech shares with Weber. The two-way ability is there, as is the physical edge. With a couple of years of proper strength training and supplements (for the teenager, not for Shea), their size and body shape could even turn out to be eerily similar.
Elite Prospects: #2
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #7
NHL Central Scouting: #4 (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #4
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #9
Arguably, Jiříček is higher rated coming into the draft than Zboril ever was. He is currently regarded as a consensus top-12 selection and someone who easily could be called within the first five picks, with Elite Prospects having him as their second-highest ranked prospect overall.
Will he be the first defenceman to come off the board? That spot seems to be fellow Eastern European Simon Nemec’s to have and to hold, but stranger things have occurred during the magical night that is the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
Using Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting tool, you can see comparisons to the highest-drafted right-handed defencemen of the last few drafts, as well as to Weber. The numbers in the top diagram are a statistic of how their point production for each year would translate into the NHL, a stat which obviously is most interesting to use before the prospects actually reach the NHL level.
The lower diagram provides insight on how great a chance there is that a player becomes an NHL star (for defencemen that would mean a point production above 0.45 points per game) and a regular NHLer (reaches 200 NHL games or more in their career). The stats and diagrams are updated from the players draft-minus-one season all the way through their draft-plus-three year. Thus, you can, as an example, see a massive leap in Moritz Seider’s star probability in his D+3 year, thanks to his incredible rookie season.
As you can see, Jiříček ranks below the previous three years’ top RHD chosen, which very well could be a testament to the fact that it’s difficult to evaluate a top-end prospect out of the Czech Extraliga in 2022 due to the lack of comparable talent. It could also be due to the simple fact that in comparison to guys like Seider, Drysdale or Clarke, Jiříček has fewer high-end qualities that make you confident in an elite upside.
Players who can get a job done for your team in any given situation are surprisingly difficult to get your hands on. David Jiříček may not have the highest ceiling in this draft class, but I would be very surprised if he didn’t become a pillar on an NHL blue line for years to come. That could very well be worth the investment.