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Should the Sabres Trade for David Jiricek?

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David Jiricek trade

Could David Jiricek want a trade out of Columbus?

In Aaron Portzline’s latest Sunday Gathering column at The Athletic, he notes some unrest from the Blue Jackets defenseman in his opportunity to play in the NHL this season. Jiricek is quoted in the article saying, “I played good hockey in the NHL. I’m an NHL player right now. That’s my opinion, that I should be in the NHL right now.”

The excerpt has sent speculation across league circles about the state of Jiricek’s relationship with the organization. If the relationship is truly strained, then the future of the former sixth overall draft pick may be somewhere other than Columbus.

Could it be in Buffalo? Let’s dive in to see if it makes sense for the Sabres.

Who is David Jiricek?

Jiricek was highly touted heading into the 2022 NHL Draft, ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the fourth-best European skater. The Blue Jackets selected the Czechia native sixth overall, as the second defenseman off the board. That puts Jiricek in high company, as he is clearly aware of.

“I see guys from the same draft, like Simon Nemec and (Kevin) Korchinski…they get a chance on the powerplay. They play a ton of minutes in the NHL,” Portzline quotes Jiricek as saying. “Those are different teams, so different situations, but I can compare with them. I just want a chance to play like that.”

Nemec, of course, went second overall in 2022 to the New Jersey Devils. Korchinski was selected the pick after Jiricek by the Chicago Blackhawks. The other defenseman selected in the top 10 that year is Pavel Mintyukov, who was chosen by the Anaheim Ducks. All three have played pivotal roles on their corresponding teams’ bluelines and powerplay units this season.

Jiricek, meanwhile, has averaged under 15 minutes a game with a meager total of 25 seconds on the powerplay.

Jiricek’s Performance

While it’s fair for Jiricek to complain about his opportunity in contrast to his peers, his play should dictate his opportunity – not what other teams have done. According to Evolving Hockey, the Blue Jackets defenseman is a below replacement player in the NHL this season, posting 3.3 goals-below replacement.

His -0.373 GAR/60 is lower than Nemec (0.517), Mintyukov (0.144), and Korchinski (-0.305). Only Tristan Luneau, drafted 53rd overall by the Ducks, has posted a lower GAR/60 (-0.487) by 2022 Draft Class defensemen.

While goals-above replacement isn’t perfect at isolating a player from his team environment, it is notable that Jiricek ranks dead-last among Blue Jackets defensemen in the category. He may be unhappy with his deployment, but if anyone deserves an AHL stint on the roster, it’s him.

Jiricek’s Attributes

While isolated metrics are a good way to evaluate a player’s performance, PuckLuck’s player attributes allow us to get a better idea of the style of play and dynamic traits of Jiricek’s game.

David Jiricek Columbus Blue Jackets player comps

The one attribute that sticks out from Jiricek is his ability to make plays. Primary assists and primary shot passes are a big component of what the second-year blueliner brings to the table, suggesting there’s a lot of offensive upside early-on in his career.

Combine that Jiricek’s above-average ability to drive play up the ice, and the early numbers suggest elements of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Travis Sanheim in his game. He’ll have to shoot more and improve defensively to more directly compare, but that’s a good name to see despite the poor GAR metrics.

The top four comparisons to Jiricek are all bottom-pair staples, although the limited powerplay opportunity is a part of that and not necessarily his fault. It is indicative of what we can expect from the Czech defenseman at this point in his career, however.

Jiricek’s Development

Top-10 draft selections have a high hit-rate in the NHL, and the list of highly-selected defensemen is perhaps even more impressive. Nemec, Jiricek, Korchinski, and Mintyukov all essentially made the NHL full-time in their second seasons post-draft.

Here’s the list of defensemen selected in the top 10 the prior five seasons to the 2022 NHL Draft:

2021

  • Owen Power [1]
  • Luke Hughes [4]
  • Brandt Clarke [8]

2020

  • Jake Sanderson [5]
  • Jamie Drysdale [6]

2019

  • Bowen Byram [4]
  • Mortiz Seider [6]
  • Philip Broberg [8]

2018

  • Rasmus Dahlin [1]
  • Quinn Hughes [7]
  • Adam Boqvist [8]
  • Evan Bouchard [10]

2017

  • Miro Heiskanen [3]
  • Cale Makar [4]

As you can see, the farther back we go, the better the Norris Trophy candidates. Makar, Heiskanen, Dahlin, and Quinn Hughes are all superstars in the league. Bouchard, Seider, Byram, Sanderson, Power, and Luke Hughes are all top minutes eaters and contributors to their respective teams.

Drysdale has fought through injuries early in his career, but seems to be trending up towards the previous group. Clarke is getting his first taste of NHL action after tearing up the AHL.

That leaves Boqvist and Broberg as the only two who can be considered “misses” at this point in their careers. Boqvist has flashed offensive ability, but hasn’t been able to stay in the lineup for various reasons. Broberg has mostly been a healthy scratch for the Edmonton Oilers and is currently in AHL Bakersfield just to get games in.

For those keeping track, that’s 4/14 becoming superstars (29%), 6/14 as quality top-four defensemen (43%), 2/14 as top-four trending defensemen (14%), and 2/14 as depth NHL defensemen (14%). That’s 100% odds of Jiricek becoming NHL-caliber, and 86% likelihood of making a big positive impact on his team in the near future.

Trade Capital

Trades of top-drafted defensemen aren’t unprecedented, but they’re not very common either. Out of all the defensemen previously listed, only Drysdale and Boqvist have been traded.

Drysdale was just traded this season by the Anaheim Ducks along with a 2025 second-round draft pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for 2022 fifth-overall draft pick Cutter Gauthier. Gauthier did not want to play in Philadelphia, and was consequently dealt.

Boqvist was part of a big effort by the Chicago Blackhawks to give Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews one last run. Chicago traded the defenseman, along with two first-round picks and a second-round selection, for Seth Jones and first and sixth-round picks.

Jones is a former fourth overall selection in his own right, and by then was an established top-two defenseman in the league.

Sabres Fit

So what does this say about Jiricek? Well, it’s going to take a significant asset or two to acquire him.

Columbus is not a win-now team, so they’ll likely be looking for a top prospect in exchange. The Sabres certainly have a slew of them, with Zach Benson, Matthew Savoie, Noah Ostlund, Jiri Kulich, Owen Power, and Isak Rosen selected in the first round over the last three drafts.

Benson and Power are likely untouchable, since they are already making significant contributions to the Sabres. That leaves Savoie, Ostlund, Kulich, or Rosen as potential centerpieces of a swap.

If the Sabres brass identifies Jiricek as an available and desirable target, a top forward prospect for a top prospect on defense makes sense, since forwards spots in Buffalo are fairly locked-up long-term. The Sabres currently are carrying three right-handed defensemen in Connor Clifton, Erik Johnson, and Henri Jokiharju, but only Clifton has a contract beyond this season.

The Sabres are also the NHL’s youngest team, so Jiricek fits the timeline as well. With the playoffs unlikely this season, and the gamble historically proving to be well-worth the risk, acquiring David Jiricek is an avenue worth exploring.

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