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2022 NHL Draft: David Jiricek Scouting Report

David Jiricek

Recently, this writer wrote about a Czechia forward, Jiri Kulich. Czechia’s representation at the 2022 NHL draft certainly didn’t end there. Ranked as one of the best defenders in this class, David Jiricek is also coming through the Czech ranks, and he is likely to hear his name called very early on draft day. 

David Jiricek Scouting Report

Jiricek, born on November 28, 2003, in Klatovy, Czechia, is a right-handed defender. Playing in the HC Plzen organization, he’s played in the top men’s league in parts over the last three seasons. Establishing himself last season, he recorded three goals and six assists for nine points in 34 Czech games. This season, he played 29 games, recording five goals and six assists for 11 points. This production, along with other parts of his game, led to his consistently high rankings. 

The 6’3” and 190-pound defender has been ranked 2nd by Elite Prospects, 3rd by Smaht Scouting, 6th by Draft Prospects Hockey, SportsNet, and TSN’s Craig Button, 7th by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Dobber Prospects, and The Puck Authority, and 11th by FCHockey, McKeen’s Hockey, and Recruit Scouting. This writer has Jiricek ranked 17th in his unreleased rankings, which is the lowest amongst the above rankings. 

David Jiricek Deep Dive

The Czech defender is almost exclusively considered a top-10 prospect. Why does this writer have him ranked outside the top-15? While he is not, by any means, a bad prospect, there are some concerns. 

David Jiricek’s Skating 

Jiricek has been praised for his skating by a bunch of experts and outlets. In fact, “EPRinkside,” which is Elite Prospects draft site with deep dives and evaluations (subscription required), stated, “Skating is the name of the game. He flows a fluid extension into a clean recovery to impart power and precision to his four-way ability.” The Hockey Writers, Alex Hobson, said, “He’s one of the most explosive skaters among defensemen,… he’s a hard player to slow down when you factor in his size.” 

He is a very good skater, certainly, especially factoring in his size. In fact, one of this writer’s favourite clips in this class is when Jiricek teased a forechecker behind his own net, then when the forechecker came skating at him, he darted up the ice. His first few steps are explosive, but he could look to lengthen his first few steps. That could improve his acceleration, which does need some work, but not a whole lot. Another aspect he could refine is his knee bend. Other than those two things, Jiricek is a very good all-around skater. Ankle bend and, after those first few steps, stride length are very solid. His edges are strong as well. He can skate backwards just as well as some forwards can skate forward. He should not have a problem adjusting to the pace of the NHL in this aspect.    

Offensive Abilities

Jiricek’s offensive abilities are where this writer has some questions. Let’s first look at his tracked passing stats. Across three tracked games (two in Czech league play and one in the Hlinka-Gretzky cup) he attempted 13 passes in the offensive zone, completing 11 of them (84.62%). In the Hlinka-Gretzky game, he attempted seven passes, completing six (85.71%). That was including 14.29% of his total passes being aimed at high-danger, of which he completed all of them. 

That left just six pass attempts (five completed, 83.33%) across two Czech league games, where he didn’t aim a single pass at high or medium-danger. He’s one of just two defenders this writer tracked to not aim a pass at high or medium danger in league play. There were 11 total defenders tracked. What is concerning is that his league play would be a better way to evaluate Jiricek, as he is likely not going to be a focal point of an NHL team early in his career. He was a focal point in international play, where he was more involved, and did fairly well. That said, his lack of pushing the pace in league play, albeit in a limited set of games, makes his playmaking a little harder to project. 

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David Jiricek’s Shooting Ability

Meanwhile, Jiricek fired 12 total shots in those three games, hitting the net on just five of them (41.67%). In the Hlinka, he fired seven shots, hitting the net on three of them (42.86%). He didn’t have a single shot from high-danger, and just 14.29% of his shots came from medium-danger. Meanwhile, in league play, he fired five shots, hitting the net on two of them (40%). He didn’t fire a shot from high or medium danger, similar to his passing stats in league play. 

Jiricek has a bomb of a shot. But as seen with the above numbers, he doesn’t often sneak low to get in more advantageous spots to shoot from. Additionally, he isn’t the most accurate, either. Though, one big positive is when he does miss the net, he puts it in a really good spot for deflections for teammates in front that just didn’t connect. 

What Do These Numbers Tell Us About David Jiricek?

Jiricek is not the most involved defender in the offensive zone. When it comes to his passing, he generally looks to extend offensive zone time with simple passes or chipping the puck low to the corners for a teammate to retrieve. It’s not often that he pushes the pace in the offensive zone with a flashy pass into a high-danger spot. When he does try those plays or get pucks to medium danger, it tends to be off the rush. He has an accurate pass, and can, on occasion, thread the needle through traffic to a teammate breaking in with speed. 

As for his shooting, Jiricek needs to refine his shooting selection. He’s often quick to get a shot off as opposed to reading the ice first to see if there is a better option. Other than that, his shooting is solid, and arguably one of the best in the class, among all players. 

Some aspects of his game that are not shown by numbers; stickhandling and off-puck movement. When he wants to, he can stickhandle past opposing defenders with ease. This happens few and far between, however. He is very much a defence-first style player, which is reflected in his off-puck movement. He generally does not step up often, and when he does, he is quick to get back when he has any doubts. 

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David Jiricek’s Transitional Abilities

The biggest concern for Jiricek’s game, in this writer’s opinion, is his transitional play. Starting with the lone Hlinka game tracked, he was involved directly in nine zone exit attempts, clearing the puck with possession on just 11.11% of them. In league play, across two games, he was involved directly in 24 zone exit attempts, clearing the puck with possession on 41.67%. The average controlled zone exit among 11 tracked defenders is 50.62%. 

As for entering the offensive zone, in the Hlinka, Jiricek was involved directly in eight entry attempts, gaining the zone with possession on just 12.5% of them. On the bright side, he dumped the puck deep on 75% of those attempts, so it wasn’t as though he failed to gain an entry. Meanwhile, in league play, he was directly involved in 18 zone entry attempts, gaining the zone on 22.22% of them. The average controlled zone entry percentage was 44.89%. 

Diving Deeper Into David Jiricek’s Transitional Numbers

Jiricek, as mentioned with his offence, is a very defence-first player. His entry numbers are self-explanatory. He doesn’t force passes up ice if he knows it likely won’t work cleanly. So, taking the smart play, he’ll get the puck in deep for a teammate to retrieve as opposed to possibly turning the puck over. 

As for his exits, this is where there are some worries. When Jiricek is under pressure from a forechecker, he tends to struggle. Several times, with the puck collected behind his own net, he’ll face pressure on one side. Once he sees or feels pressure coming, he’ll rim the puck up the wall away from where the pressure is coming. He does this without picking his head up quickly to see if he is even sending it to a teammate, and it has often led to turnovers and uncontrolled exits. If this isn’t improved before he makes the jump to the NHL, he could get ripped apart by solid forecheckers, like Blake Coleman or Yanni Gourde

David Jiricek Defending Against The Rush

Jiricek is an unbelievable defender. This is arguably the best aspect of his game. But first, let’s look at some numbers. In the Hlinka game, he directly faced a rush on his side of the ice 11 times and didn’t allow a single entry. He broke up 63.64% of them, and the average zone entry break-up percentage is down at 33.34%. That’s absurd. Meanwhile, in the two league games, he faced 24 rushes on his side of the ice, breaking up 33.33% of them. He allowed an entry on 37.5% of those rushes, with the average at 35%. Essentially, at league play, he was below average defending against the rush, but he absolutely dominated against players in his age group. 

With more experience and maturity, along with continuing to grow and bulk up, he could be dominant against the rush, as he was in the Hlinka tournament. Jiricek’s gap control is excellent, and it starts and ends with his skating abilities. On the times that he gave up a zone entry, it was largely due to one common pattern: he would start off defending too far wide, and when the opposing forward would cut middle, he was forced to quickly cross over to defend the slot, which led to an easy perimeter entry. On the smaller North American ice surfaces, that should not be a problem. He also times his pinches extremely well and can cause a lot of turnovers, which is shown in his entry breakups stat.

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David Jiricek’s Defensive Zone Play

Jiricek is phenomenal defensively. His ability to take away cross-ice, or royal road, passes is excellent. Positionally, he is fantastic. Paired with his active stick, he does not give up much in the middle of the ice. On the off chance that he gives up a pass through the middle, he is great at getting his body in front of the shot. Completely unafraid, he has no issues stepping in front of a shooting lane and eating pucks if it means he can help out his goalie. 

When the opposition is working on the opposite side, or up at the point, Jiricek is excellent at clearing the screens in front of his goalie. Not only that, but when someone shoots the puck from the point area, he will sneak up behind the player in front of his goalie and perfectly time stick lifts and ties the player up to prevent deflections and rebound opportunities. To put it simply, Jiricek is incredible at both defending the slot (big detail) and tying up and clearing the net-front efficiently (small details). His defensive game is translatable to the NHL level. It could be the reason he gets there sooner rather than later. 

What Is David Jiricek’s Potential?

David Jiricek is most definitely an NHL-calibre player. Is he necessarily NHL-ready? In some aspects, you could argue that he is. But his transitional game brings some concerns, that may be best refined outside the NHL first, for at least one more season. His defence, ability to defend the rush, smart decision-making, and shooting ability can all translate to the NHL level as soon as a team sees fit. Meanwhile, his transitional game, offensive involvement and shot selection issues bring some pause. 

All-in-all, David Jiricek looks like a safe projection to be a middle-pair defender. Someone who came to mind when watching Jiricek is Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cernak doesn’t necessarily bring a ton of offence. But, he possesses a good shot, excellent defensive abilities, and a physical brand of hockey. Jiricek has very similar traits. While it’s hard to project just how much value he will bring in the near future, he likely will be deployed very similar to the way Cernak is. Time will tell.

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