This positively hasn’t been the season the Columbus Blue Jackets deliberate on, sitting a distant final place within the Metropolitan Division.
It began with the head-scratching rent of Mike Babcock to be head coach and the catastrophe ending of that chapter earlier than the season even started. Nevertheless it’s extra than simply that. Goalie Elvis Merzlikins requested for a commerce when he went by means of a stretch of not taking part in and, seemingly, being demoted to the third-stringer. There’s been debate about Adam Fantilli’s utilization, because the third general decide from 2023 has extra usually been used as a winger somewhat than his common centre place. Johnny Gaudreau continues to be nicely off the scoring tempo he produced in Calgary. Patrik Laine stepped away to hunt assist from the NHL/NHLPA Participant Help Program. Head coach Pascal Vincent is making an attempt to maintain this all collectively and nonetheless grind out wins.
Even because the workforce struggles, the silver lining ought to be that there’s a younger core right here that brings some stage of hope and optimism for the lengthy haul. Yegor Chinakov (who additionally voiced frustration earlier this season over taking part in time) has 14 targets in 38 video games and is simply 22 years outdated. Fantilli has been the NHL’s fourth-highest scoring rookie to this point. And 21-year-old Kent Johnson is clearly a stage above the AHL (the place he had 15 factors in 10 video games this season) and nonetheless rising his NHL impression.
Nevertheless it’s not so easy in Columbus.
The most recent bump within the season came visiting the weekend, when defenceman David Jiricek mentioned his frustration at his growth path. The sixth general decide in 2022 is a key piece of Columbus’ future.
“In November I began on the lookout for an residence in Columbus,” Jiricek informed Aaron Portzline of The Athletic. “The dream was coming true.”
That was after Jiricek says he was informed by GM Jarmo Kekalainen that he ought to get a spot to reside in Columbus. He appeared to have made it.
However Jiricek’s utilization has been far and wide since. Although he’s performed 36 NHL video games this season in comparison with simply 4 within the AHL, he’s been moved between the 2 leagues a number of instances. Within the NHL, Jiricek is averaging 14:47 of ice time per sport, lower than any of the 9 different blue liners who’ve suited up for the Blue Jackets this season. In keeping with Portzline, Kekalainen and Co. simply don’t imagine that Jiricek is certainly one of their prime six defencemen but.
“They informed me the final sport was not ok for me,” Jiricek informed Portzline. “I informed them I don’t suppose so, however that’s your opinion. I used to be out of the lineup after that. A complete month now, it looks like I haven’t performed.”
Jiricek’s final NHL sport was Jan. 9 and he’s performed three AHL video games in that point, together with this previous Saturday.
Different prime defencemen from the 2022 draft are being given alternatives for progress and Jiricek sees that as a comparability for himself. Simon Nemec, the second general decide, has 13 factors in 26 NHL video games this season after beginning with 13 AHL video games in October and November. Within the NHL, Nemec is averaging 20:46 a sport. And Kevin Korchinski, the seventh general decide, has 9 factors in 44 video games for the depleted Chicago Blackhawks and averages 19:53 per sport. Of their catastrophe of a season, Korchinski is being given a glance.
As playoffs fade (or, extra precisely, have already disappeared) the query shall be requested: what ought to be Columbus’ prime precedence from right here on out? Is it to maximise wins? Construct tradition? Deal with younger participant growth?
And who ought to be in control of all this? Almost 11 years into the job, Kekalainen is starting to get warmth from the fan base as his imaginative and prescient for the franchise hasn’t come near materializing but. Now we’re witnessing one other younger cornerstone speaking his frustration, and Jiricek is a participant this still-young workforce can not afford to alienate.
With extra on who Jiricek is as a participant, and ideas on how he’s being developed, we flip to our scout Jason Bukala.
The Columbus Blue Jackets seemed poised for a greater season again in October. They’d added some key items within the low season. Gamers like defencemen Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov, together with extremely touted first-round decide Adam Fantilli, all introduced a way of enthusiasm to the group.
One other prime prospect who the Jackets and their followers ought to be enthusiastic about is defenceman David Jiricek.
Jiricek is a extremely coveted proper shot defender who brings a mix of dimension (six-foot-four, 207 kilos) and offensive upside (Jircek produced six targets and 32 assists within the AHL final season). He isn’t a bone crusher bodily, however he’s tall and lengthy and usually retains opponents to the perimeter along with his attain.
Up to now this season Jiricek has dressed for 36 NHL video games and has averaged 14:46 of ice time, which all usually comes at even power. He very not often sees any time on particular groups, and has produced a aim and eight assists.
The Blue Jackets appear to overlook what they’ve on this prospect. Jiricek can beat goalies at any stage with a clapper or snap shot from vary. He’s an influence play menace ready to occur. He has at all times produced offence alongside each cease in his growth.
However, for some cause, the Blue Jackets have chosen to play arduous ball with Jiricek. They’ve been ping-ponging him up and down from the minors lately and the prospect has spoken out. He’s not blissful and, frankly, I don’t blame him. The Jackets aren’t a playoff contending outfit. Why are they not placing extra effort into creating certainly one of their prime prospects? In the event that they selected to have him within the AHL for one more season, they need to merely talk that to Jiricek. If they’ll have him on the NHL roster, why not attempt to put him in a task to succeed and play to his strengths?
Right here’s my commentary from earlier within the season after I scouted Jiricek and the Jackets:
Right here’s a take a look at some constructive moments for Jiricek, when he’s taking part in to his strengths:
On this clip, Jiricek truly began the offensive zone sequence with a chip across the boards that ended up on the left level. When the play works again down the boards, he makes himself out there as an choice in the course of the ice. He has a plan when he receives the puck, adjustments the angle of his launch, and his shot finally ends up being tipped into the web by Justin Danforth.
The second clip comes from a set play late in a sport, coincidentally in opposition to New Jersey once more. Coaches are at all times asking younger gamers to push for the total 60 minutes, even when the sport is out of attain. That is an instance of Jiricek executing a set play.
Discover the ability concerned in his move to Fantilli on the flank.
Right here’s one other instance of how Jiricek reads the play within the offensive zone and creates scoring probabilities. This puck ought to have been stopped, however the sequence resulting in the chance was created by Jiricek on his robust facet.
To be truthful, not all the things goes nicely for creating prospects on the NHL stage. They make errors that they hopefully gained’t make once more as they mature. It’s a part of the developmental course of.
Right here’s an instance of a poorly timed pinch by Jiricek that results in a scoring likelihood for Boston. Discover, nonetheless, how the Jackets have two skaters again defending. It’s primarily a two-on-two zone entry. They break down as a workforce and the puck results in their web.
The underside line, nonetheless, is Jiricek didn’t time his pinch appropriately within the offensive zone and I can’t let him off the hook for the error.
If it feels like I’m passionate in regards to the situation that’s taking part in out for David Jiricek, in Columbus, it’s as a result of I’m.
He isn’t an ideal participant — no person is — nevertheless it looks like there’s a breakdown in communication between him and the group. Columbus must be cautious they don’t mess issues up with certainly one of their prime prospects.