Let’s face it, we could all use some good news and reasons for optimism as fans of the Blue Jackets these days. The only thing Jackets fans have to look forward to this year is the draft lottery (please God, I don’t ask for much), and the development of our young prospects.
Today, I’m glad to be able to share some hope as I will break down the future of the Columbus blue line, David Jiricek.
You may have heard he’d doing quite well — like really well — this year in the AHL with the Cleveland Monsters. He’s shown up in quite a few of Czechia’s highlights in the World Juniors this year where he is anchoring their back end and is drawing rave reviews from all those watching.
What I wasn’t fully aware of until recently, was just how good Jiricek has been. His play as a teenager is quite literally off the charts. I want to highlight a few exciting stats for the young defenseman that shows him on the path to stardom, and the elite company he is in with his performance this year.
It’s easy to look up the stats to see that David Jiricek is a point-per-game player in his first professional season in North America. That would be impressive for anyone to accomplish, let alone a teenager who just turned 19 a month ago. Playing heavy minutes on the top pairing for the Monsters is already more than the Jackets’ management could have probably hoped for, but to do it in such dominating fashion has been mind blowing.
For the duration of his NHL career he will always be compared to Simon Nemec, who was drafted just before Jiricek at second overall to the New Jersey Devils. Obviously, the jury will still be out for many years, but the early returns have Jiricek way out in front in terms of performance and development.
The most impressive advanced stats that caught my eye that really shows Jiricek’s dominance is PNHLe. Now I’ll admit I had to look up the definition of this metric to learn what it actually meant. Simply put, NHLe is an equivalency formula that tries to predict potential points a player will put up when playing in the NHL based on their performances in other leagues. PNHLe takes into account a players’ age and the average rate of progression of point production with age and experience. I found a great resource from the creator of this stat, Mason Black, where he explains the thought process behind creating this stat.
It’s ok if it still doesn’t make total sense, just take a look at the elite company that Jiricek is blowing away.
I can't stress enough how impressive David Jiricek's season has been so far in the AHL. Over a point-per-game as a teen defenseman is truly exceptional.— Mason Black (@NHLRankKing) December 27, 2022
He is shattering the highest posted PNHLe over the past two decades. #CBJ pic.twitter.com/NJhankebmr
The other stat that really caught my eye was one that I mentioned in my previous Going North piece: Win share. Win Share is essentially just a convenient name for the combination of different offensive and defensive metrics into a combined and easy to digest number that describes a players’ overall contribution to their team and winning.
Top players U21 years old in AHL for Win Shares pic.twitter.com/TIxHP6eUX9— Thibaud Chatel (@Thibaud_Chatel) December 13, 2022
Jiricek leads the way in terms of this metric for players in the AHL under the age of 21 as a teenager. There are a lot of first round picks on that list, and its very encouraging to see a CBJ prospect leading the bunch. Jiricek is also 15th in the entire league in this metric, which is almost just as impressive.
It’s hard to say that David Jiricek isn’t ready for an NHL gig, but with the environment and body language seen on the ice with the big club, I think the Blue Jackets are doing right by their prized prospect in letting him play games that actually matter in Cleveland, and also letting him represent his home country in the World Junior Championship.
For all of the analytics that have shown Jiricek to be the next great NHL defenseman, there is just as much that he excels at that doesn’t always appear in the advanced stats data.
As if more convincing was needed, three analytics specialists working for NCAA hockey teams, have taken it on themselves to track all World Juniors games. They are measuring for the following metrics: zone entries/zone exits and shot assists along with expected goals.
After two games their statistics models didn’t show Jiricek being as dominant as one might imagine, especially considering Czechia’s strong showing in their first few games, although I do suspect that has changed with his OUTSTANDING performance against Sweden. However, they did feel it necessary to write their own short article explaining why this was so.
Basically, they explain that while the numbers don’t always jump out in the data they track, it is obvious when actually watching the game the overall effect he has in driving the play for Czechia. Jiricek excels at thinking the game steps ahead of the actual play. He is great at identifying and reading opposing defenses and finding the right player to advance the puck and make a play. In short, he is making the correct move in finding his teammates in the best position to succeed and help the team that way.
Jiricek makes a great pass off the opening faceoff in the 3rd and Czechia scores just seconds in! pic.twitter.com/Cp2kxyMbBv— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) December 28, 2022
I know in the NFL it has somewhat of a negative connotation, but an example that was given to describe this style was a great “game manager quarterback.” My fellow Browns fans are familiar with this term, and to us it doesn’t inspire much confidence, but there have been some exceptional “game managers” who have led their teams to Super Bowls. And keep in mind, this comparison is just based on the transition data that has been tracked in the WJC so far, meaning this is just one small piece of the puzzle for Jiricek. Most folks know that advanced stats don’t always tell the whole story, and in this case, where he seems to fall a bit short, it’s nice to see that he still passes the good ol’ “eye test.” Oh, and you know who IS one of the most highly ranked players in terms of this particular data set?
His potential future partner on the top pair: Zach Werenski.
By the way, I don’t think Jiricek will be just a “game manager” type player, I’m more of a believer in him being a “game breaker” and all-around dynamic defenseman when he reaches his prime.
Again, this was prior to his big game yesterday (in which he was the player of the game for Czechia), but I thought it was a good example how Jiricek excels in pretty much every aspect of the game even when the numbers and analytics may not exactly show it.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Blue Jackets have themselves a special young player. He’s developing better than anyone could have expected to this point, and will be NHL ready before we know it — if not already. I’ll end this piece with a highlight reel from showing the complete package that is David Jiricek:
Still thinking about this sequence from Jiricek. Leads on a 2 on 1 on a PK and gets back to break up the rush! Very excited to see what he does in the future. pic.twitter.com/3IESGHEHRu— CBJ Highlights (@ThreadsJackets) December 29, 2022
David Jiricek, averaging a point-per-game in the AHL, has been an absolute beast in this World Juniors game versus Canada, looking every bit the part of a franchise dman— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) December 27, 2022
Here he is going end-to-end, gobbles up ice for a big man
Think passing on him will haunt #Flyers pic.twitter.com/WVY1TwYsfH
Today really showed what Jiricek is capable of … what an incredible game from him. He generates 3 grade A chances. pic.twitter.com/qUkBPkXAar— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) December 29, 2022
Jiricek joins the rush to score for Czechia and make it 1-0! pic.twitter.com/bD3BqMncpv— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) December 29, 2022
Textbook manipulation of the forechecker by David Jiricek. Weight shifts and points his toes to fake going up the wall before cutting back in the other direction leaving his forechecker in the corner. h/t: @TSN_sports pic.twitter.com/QNqT3KN2l4— Brett Lee (@brett1ee) December 27, 2022
Jiricek picks up an assist and a goal for the Monsters giving him 20 points in 19 games! pic.twitter.com/3KTM23BleW— CBJ Highlights (@ThreadsJackets) December 23, 2022