The immediate knee-jerk reaction to the Detroit Red Wings drafting eighth overall in the 2022 draft is that they need to target a high-end forward with the pick, with the preference being a center rather than a winger. After selecting Moritz Seider sixth overall in 2019 and Simon Edvinsson sixth overall in 2021, the Red Wings seemingly have the pillars of their defensive core already in the organization, and that’s not even mentioning the other intriguing defensive prospects they have in their system. So why in the world would they use another top-10 pick on a defenseman this year?
Related: Red Wings 2022 Draft Coverage
I’ll tell you why: if a player like David Jiříček is still on the board after the first five picks, he’s a player you absolutely must consider picking, regardless of what your defensive depth chart looks like.
As you’re about to find out, Jiříček isn’t just one of, if not THE best defenseman available in this draft, but he’s also one of the best all around players in the 2022 draft. The point of a rebuild is to acquire as many quality players and prospects as you possibly can. If the Red Wings find themselves with the opportunity to add him to their already impressive crop of young defensemen, they might just have to overlook the other needs they have in their system.
The first and most important thing to note about Jiříček is that he is already adept at playing at both ends of the ice. Among the top-ranked prospects in this year’s draft class, he may have one of the highest “floors” simply because his game is already in a good place. He has good offensive instincts, defends well, and he restrains from making foolish plays with and without the puck. He is highly projectable at the NHL level, and the right development plan could help him become something special.
On offense, Jiříček is good at reading plays and understanding when he needs to activate and essentially become a fourth forward on the ice. He finds open space on the ice to provide his teammates with a passing option, and he can enter scrums along the boards to provide support for his teammates. He sometimes looks like he wants to do more in the offensive zone but doesn’t want to put himself out of position defensively; I’ll take a player like that any day of the week because they are already conscientious of how their decisions can affect a play one way or another, and you can teach him when and how to provide a greater impact in the offensive zone. That level of mindfulness is hard to teach, so if a player already has it, that’s a big boost to their value as a prospect.
While Jiříček isn’t a “physical defenseman” in the traditional sense, he isn’t afraid to put his physical tools to use. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he is built similarly to Seider, so size isn’t a problem with this prospect. Jiříček uses his strength to box out opponents in the defensive zone just as much as he uses it to stay strong on the puck while being pursued by an opposing backcheck. He’s not going to throw hits like Seider, but the opponent isn’t going to be able to bully him. Honestly, if he can add some nastiness to his game, he and Seider could look very similar in the prime of their careers.
While Jiříček is not quick in terms of speed, he is quick in terms of how he plays. He has a good outlet pass which allows him to push the pace of the game. His ability to read plays in both zones allows him to quickly put himself in the right position. Finally, if he has space to work with, he combines his stickhandling abilities with his skating abilities to weave in and out of traffic; he is purposeful in his movements, so while he isn’t the fastest skater on the ice, he may be the most efficient on any given night.
Jiříček’s overall awareness and hockey IQ is his best asset in my opinion, but his stickwork is probably a close second. With and without the puck, he uses his stick effectively to break up or start plays, shield the puck from opposing players, and create passing and/or shooting lanes for himself. His ability to effectively use his stick coupled with his strong awareness all over the ice makes him a pesky defender in his own zone, and a sneaky good offensive creator in the offensive zone. If you watch almost any game he plays in, it won’t be long before you’re marveling at just how smart of player he is.
Oh, and to top it all off, he also has an absolute bomb of a shot.
What Jiříček Still Has to Work On
The thing about Jiříček is that there isn’t a glaring hole in his game like others ranked at the top of this draft class. You almost always expect 18-year-old prospects to have flaws in their defensive game, but his defensive game is already good, bordering on great. And while his offensive game is not explosive, he already shows high-end, projectable traits in the offensive zone that could lead to NHL production sooner rather than later. He is one of the most polished prospects in this year’s draft class, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still areas of his game he can work on.
Perhaps the biggest area Jiříček needs to work on is his overall confidence in the offensive zone. While it is great that he already picks his spots when it comes to pinching in on offensive plays, there are moments where he has the opportunity to activate offensively but he doesn’t seem to trust himself to make the play. That confidence will come with time and practice, but adding that level of offensive aggressiveness could be the difference between him being a middle-pair or a top-pair defenseman.
Furthermore, his on-puck defense is better than his off-puck defense. By that I mean Jiříček is a more effective defender when it comes to dealing with the puck carrier than he is with dealing with somebody without the puck. This stems from how strong he is with his stick – if he’s in a position to use his stick to break up a play, he can and will, but if the puck is nowhere near him or the player he’s defending, he’s left to rely on his skating and anticipation. To be clear, this part of his game isn’t bad, but it is a definite area he can improve on. Furthermore, his lack of high-end speed could result in him losing foot races on delayed icing calls or simply when he’s just chasing after loose pucks. If an opposing forward can attack him with speed, he doesn’t have the wheels to keep up.
Lastly, there is some debate over his overall ceiling. While Jiříček may have one of the highest “floors” in this draft, there are some who wonder if he has the goods to develop into a true top-pairing defenseman. Basically, the concern is about whether he has more room to grow, or if he’s already close to a finished product. These concerns are valid because he’s in a place where much of his game is already “great”, and now the next step is to make those areas of his game “elite.” The space between “great” and “elite” is wide, and some players are never quite able to make that leap. Like some players who face questions about their size, this is something that he won’t be able to answer until he either succeeds or fails to prove his doubters wrong.
In my opinion, Jiříček is one of the most NHL-ready prospects in this draft class. Under the right circumstances, he could play in the NHL next season, likely in a bottom-pairing role before eventually working his way up to the middle-pairing by the end of the season. He would have to be on a team that has an opening for him to grab, and he would also need an effective, veteran partner on his pairing to take him under his wing and help him feel at home in the NHL.
The team that drafts Jiříček will have some options to weigh. While he played in his native Czechia this season, his rights are owned by the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League (WHL), making that a potential place for him to play next season. Furthermore, as a player drafted out of Europe, he would be eligible to play in the American Hockey League (AHL) next season as well, which would give him the opportunity to play against men in his first season in North America while also not dealing with the pressure that playing in the NHL brings.
Bottom line: if he doesn’t play in the NHL in the 2022-23 season, he should be in the league the following season.
Jiříček’s Fit with the Red Wings
This season, the right side of the Red Wings’ blue line consisted of Seider, Filip Hronek, Gustav Lindstrom and Troy Stecher (who was traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline.) Of those remaining three, Seider is the only one you can bank on being around when the Red Wings are contending for Stanley Cups again. Detroit’s best right-handed defensive prospect is Antti Tuomisto (35th overall, 2019), and he just signed a two-year deal to play over in his native Finland.
Adding Jiříček to the Red Wings’ defensive pipeline would almost guarantee that Detroit will be able to ice two top-tier defensive pairings in the future. Add in Edvinsson into the mix and you’ve got a Red Wings defense that looks like it would become one of the best we’ve seen in the salary cap era. While Jiříček certainly isn’t a necessary player for the Red Wings, the results of the pick would speak for themselves.
Best Player Available
Alright, time to be realistic. There is a good argument to be made for any of the teams picking second through seventh to consider Jiříček with their pick. Personally, I’ll be shocked if he’s still on the board when the Columbus Blue Jackets are on the clock at sixth overall. If he is still available when the Red Wings are on the clock, chances are that he will be the best player available. While the focus for Detroit should undoubtedly be to bring in a top-tier offensive talent, this is one of only two defenders that they should consider if they have the opportunity to pick him.
“He could be a pain in the ass on NHL ice in the defensive zone. Jiříček is a guy where if he has you in his crosshairs, you are not going to enjoy the next 15-30 seconds of ice time. He loves to push into attackers in the slot right as they are about to get fed a pass and he wants them to lose possession of the puck.” – Josh Tessler, Smaht Scouting
“His edgework is very good and he also possesses what I believe might be one of the best shots among defensemen in the 2022 draft class. Whether it’s a booming one-timer or a deceptive wrist shot, Jiricek’s point shots typically end up in the back of the net before you can blink.” – Alex Hobson, The Hockey Writers
“He’s a strong and sturdy defender who plays a staunch man-to-man style, moves his feet well for his size, and thrives in transition with his ability to both close out on gaps with his length through neutral ice and lead a ton of rushes as a puck transporter. Offensively, he’s also a capable handler and distributor whose point shot is complemented by an aggressive approach.” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic (from “NHL Draft 2022 top 100 prospects: Scott Wheeler’s final rankings:, The Athletic, 6/6/22)
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.