Blue Jackets hope prospect David Jiricek ends up-and-down season on high note

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s been an up-and-down season for defenseman David Jiricek, but the Columbus Blue Jackets hope he’s ready to end it on a high note.

Jiricek, the No. 6 pick in the 2022 draft, was recalled from AHL Cleveland on Tuesday and will be in the lineup on Thursday when the Blue Jackets host the New York Islanders in Nationwide Arena. He could be here for the final seven games of the regular season.

“Jiricek has gone (to Cleveland) and worked,” Blue Jackets president of hockey operations and interim general manager John Davidson told The Athletic Tuesday. “He’s been a good soldier. So let’s get him some major league time. It’s all part of the next chapter as we move forward.

“You hope he can finish the season with us. Hopefully, he plays well. He’s going to make mistakes because all kids do. But he’s been getting lots of ice time there (in Cleveland), lots of power-play time, etc. So let’s just see where it goes.”

Jiricek, 20, has gone up and down between Columbus and Cleveland five separate times this season, including a five-day recall in January and a one-day emergency recall in March. He played in 36 of the Blue Jackets’ first 42 games, but hasn’t taken an NHL shift since Jan. 9.

A few days after his demotion in January, Jiricek admitted his frustration in an interview with The Athletic.

“I played good hockey in the NHL,” Jiricek said. “I’m an NHL player right now. That’s my opinion, that I should be in the NHL right now.

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

Part of Jiricek’s frustration stemmed from being told by former Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen to “get a place” in Columbus soon after the regular season started, typically an indication that management and coaches view the player as a full-time NHLer.

Four days after that conversation with Kekäläinen, Jiricek was sent to join Cleveland for a road game in Belleville, Ontario, playing one game AHL game before he was recalled.

In 36 games with Columbus, Jiricek has one goal, eight assists and a minus-1 rating. He averaged 14 minutes, 46 seconds of ice time.

Asked last month what Blue Jackets coaches wanted him to focus on with AHL Cleveland, coach Pascal Vincent was clear.

“We want him to get better at his gap control, because in the NHL if you don’t have that, it’s going to be really hard,” Vincent said. “Not that all defensemen are great at it, but you need to have it.”

In 26 games with Cleveland, Jiricek had 7-10-17 with a minus-17 rating. Two of his goals came on the power play, where he plays the point and has a booming slap shot.

It’s unclear if he’ll get a chance to play special teams in Columbus. The Blue Jackets were off on Tuesday, so it’s unclear where Jiricek will play at five-on-five.

“That’s up to the coaches,” Davidson said. “But we got really good reports from Cleveland, that he’s been very coachable there.

“This will be part of the experience of him getting better. We’re in a position now, at the end of the season, where we want to play well, but we also have to look forward to next season. So let’s coach him up and away we go.”

The Blue Jackets have won consecutive games for only the fourth time all season, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in a shootout on Saturday and the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 on Monday.

They’ll go for three straight wins on Thursday vs. the Islanders, something the Blue Jackets haven’t accomplished since March 11-16, 2022, a span of 178 games.

On Tuesday, the Blue Jackets returned defenseman Jake Christiansen to AHL Cleveland after a nine-game stint with Columbus. If he’d played one more game with the Blue Jackets, Christiansen would have needed to clear waivers to return to Cleveland for the playoffs.

(Photo: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)

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