Blue Jackets Need Patience with David Jiricek After WJC

The Columbus Blue Jackets defensive prospect pool was on display at the World Junior Championship as David Jiricek and Stanislav Svozil stole the show with their performances for Czechia, which resulted in a silver medal run. The team doesn’t have to do anything regarding Svozil for the remainder of the season as he’ll go back to the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League alongside Connor Bedard who was the MVP of the tournament for Canada. Jiricek, on the other hand, will likely head back to the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League (AHL), and despite his strong performances, he should remain there for the rest of the 2022-23 season.

The Argument Against Jiricek Playing in the NHL

Jiricek’s showing for Czechia has certainly made him gain some recognition internationally and across the NHL. It shouldn’t be too surprising for the Blue Jackets and their fans though, as he’s played at a very high level for the entirety of the 2022-23 season for the Monsters. Offensively, he’s above a point per game in his debut season in North America. Defensively he’s been very solid as well despite playing on a struggling team in Cleveland. Despite this, there are a few major reasons why it’s better for the player and the organization to keep him in the minors for the time being.

David Jiricek Team Czechia
David Jiricek, Team Czechia (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

First, the Blue Jackets know that they have a phenomenal future star in Jiricek. He’s performing at a high level regardless of where he’s put. As a result, it’s better for the organization to spend a lost season evaluating their other assets and see which ones they prefer to keep and which ones they can move on from, especially when there’s a major logjam of right-handed defensemen, most of whom Jiricek will jump on the depth chart next season. Adam Boqvist, Andrew Peeke, Nick Blankenburg, Marcus Bjork, and Erik Gudbranson are all righties and there is no way that they can all remain in Columbus for the long haul.

Gudbranson is the most protected of all of them, simply because management went out of their way to bring him in on a four-year deal this past offseason. Blankenburg has the advantage that he’s willing to play both sides of the blue line, which makes him more likely to remain in Columbus for his versatility. The other three, however, are all fairly expendable depending on the trade offers that come across Jarmo Kekalainen’s desk. At this point, it would be wise to evaluate each of them and allow Jiricek to continue dominating in the AHL until next season.

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Second, once Vladislav Gavrikov is traded closer to the trade deadline there won’t be a legitimate left-handed defenseman to pair him with. It would be best at that point to allow him to play alongside Zach Werenski are part of the top pairing during the 2023-24 season rather than plugging him into the dysfunctional defense that is currently taking the ice.

Lastly, the talk around the league this season is undoubtedly focused on the Bedard sweepstakes. Teams who are in contention to have the best odds for the draft lottery aren’t going to be willing to take chances of getting better for no reason. The Blue Jackets specifically have a tendency to play themselves out of high draft picks, although they’ll never admit it publicly, management should have that as their top priority. Adding Jiricek to the roster won’t make the team a playoff contender, but he could be enough of a difference-maker to move them out of a top draft pick.

Next Season and Beyond

Starting the 2023-24 season, Jiricek should undoubtedly be on the Blue Jackets roster going forward. He’s a tremendous talent who is going to improve the team substantially. At this point, though, the team as a whole needs some work, so it’s best to let him thrive in a low-pressure environment and compete for the Calder Memorial Trophy next season, which will be very difficult for him to win but it’s worth letting him try. In his rookie season, I’d expect him to spend the majority of the season alongside the team’s star defenseman Werenski. In future seasons, the options will certainly open up a bit more as Stanislav Svozil, Denton Mateychuk, and Samuel Knazko are all expected to make a push for the NHL roster.

Jiricek is looking like the future face of the Blue Jackets’ defense and could be a type of player the organization has never seen before. He’s a rising star and although under most circumstances I’d argue that someone like him should be playing in the NHL, the team is currently a disaster, which would potentially do more harm than good. Next season, there should be a new coaching staff and management will have plenty of time to make some changes to sort out the logjam on defense. It’s best to be patient for now and save the excitement of Jiricek playing in the NHL again for opening night unless absolutely necessary.

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