It is not at all uncommon for a prospect coming into his draft year as a highly touted prospect to have a serious injury to make him miss most of the season. Sometimes that player doesn't see their draft spot change very much in final rankings, or on draft day itself. But it often does.

As Maple Leafs fans, we are well aware of this kind of scenario. Morgan Rielly suffered a serious knee injury in his draft year, but he was able to return before the end of the season and was a point per game as a 17-year-old defenseman. Toronto took him 5th overall, with then-GM Brian Burke making a famous remark that he would have taken him first overall.


  • Position: Right-Shot Defenseman
  • League(s): Czechia U20 junior, Czechia pro league
  • Height: 6'2"
  • Weight: 168 lbs
  • Birthdate: June 28th, 2006

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: 14th
  • Will Scouch: 7th
  • Elite Prospects: 28th
  • Scott Wheeler: 21st
  • Future Considerations: 19th
  • Dobber Prospects: 24th
  • McKeen's Hockey: 24th

The injury drop is what could be happening this season with Czech defender Adam Jiříček. He looked like one of the top defensemen of the draft at the Hlinka Gretzky tournament, with three points in five games while being an absolute workhorse in terms of total minutes played and usage in all situations. He was poised for a big season at the Czechia pro league as a young 17 year old, following the same path of his older brother David who was drafted 6th overall by Columbus in 2022.

Adam Jiříček was highly regarded enough that he was a lock for their World Junior team. Even though he had a tough time adjusting to Czechia's pro league, wasn't getting as many minutes as he'd like, and reportedly suffered two injuries during the start of the season (a minor knee injury and a minor concussion) without missing many actual games. He was even sent down to the junior league for a few games. But while he was only getting around 10 minutes per game early on, in the leadup to the WJC he was starting to play 16-18 minutes. But in the very first game of the tournament, he got tangled with another player as they fell awkwardly along the boards. He injured his knee enough that it required season ending surgery.

From Lassi Alanen's Europe tracking project:

It doesn't seem like it's just Jiříček's knee injury that is causing his rankings to slip, so much as it's that combined with him not looking as good as expected in the first part of his draft year. If he wasn't hurt, he had time to prove that was just a blip on the radar as he adjusted to a higher level of hockey given his age, but the injury has meant that it's basically all scouts have to work with.

Whereas Morgan Rielly was able to return before the end of the season and short playoff run, at this point Jiříček's season is done – both his junior and pro teams are already out of the playoffs. The only other hockey he could have had a chance to play in before the draft would be the World U18 Championship starting in late April. But back when he had his surgery, it was stated he'd miss that tournament as well.


The most standout skill that Jiříček has is his skating. Every scout will refer to his 'four way mobility' to talk about both his north-south speed and his lateral agility. It is the backbone at the core of his other main strengths, both offensively and defensively. Personally, I'm not great at assessing skating mechanics, but I did have a chance to see him play at the Hlinka and U20 Five Nations tournaments where I did think his skating stood out against other 'best of the best' of his same-aged peers. For anything more granular than that, I'll defer to the scouts.

From David St Louis at Elite Prospects:

Jiříček has already outpaced his brother in terms of overall skating prowess and fluidity of movement at the same age. While not quite at an elite level, when combined with his exceptional commitment and assertiveness, it creates an immensely compelling profile. He displayed strength both in his capacity to defend with or without the puck, willingly embracing physicality when needed and assertively pinching in without unduly jeopardizing his team's defensive posture.

Defensively, Jiříček seems more advanced in his development than offensively. His skating helps him prevent opponents from blowing by him, as well as keeping them from deking past him the other way. He has the foot speed and maneuverability to be able to react very quickly. But he also showed a good amount of aggression in terms of forcing the opponents to reach to him. If they were too slow, he'd close on them quickly. He had a good balance of physicality and good stickwork, where he showed the ability both to be physically punishing while also poking or knocking pucks away to create turnovers. His decision making for which one to do at any given time was not always perfect, but he was making good decisions more often than not from what I saw.

From Matej Deraj at McKeen's Hockey:

He's a right-handed defenseman who excels in his own zone, using either his stick or body to neutralize the opponent. Even though he doesn't enjoy throwing big hits like his brother, he's not afraid of board battles either and can throw a solid bodycheck himself. He plays a smart game, quickly identifies the threat and jumps to defend.

Offensively, Jiříček has more of a ways to go but has flashed a lot of potential in terms of being a puck mover and driving transitions through all three zones. His skating is a big help with this, helping him evade forecheckers to make a safe pass out of the defensive zone, and weave through the neutral zone to carry it into the offensive zone with control. His passing shows potential as well, not necessarily as a truly elite passing defenseman but capable enough to help drive play in the right direction.

From Lassi Alanen at Elite Prospects:

Jiříček's overall hockey sense projects as above-average. Especially against his peers, he's able to flash a lot of intriguing stuff as an offensive threat and a puck-mover. He's got good instincts from the point, making the right play most of the time on his first touch. He's got an above-average wrist and slap shots from the point, which is another quality he shares with his brother. He's proficient at opening up lanes to use it, too, combining deceptive fakes and lateral agility to make the opponent hesitate...
On breakouts, Jiříček regularly flashed the desire to manipulate the forecheck, draw in pressure before passing and use subtle deception, such as look-offs and head fakes, to keep the desired passing lane open.


In short, the flaws that people saw in Jiříček during the brief period at the start of the season when he was playing in the Czech pro league come down to a lack of refinement. He flashed advanced tools and skills, but wasn't consistently executing on them as much as many had hoped. I don't want to excuse them, but I will point out two things – first, those two injuries (knee and concussion) he reportedly had in that time before the major one at the World Juniors could very well have affected him enough to explain at least some of why he didn't look as good as expected.

Second, while Jiříček is 6'2" he is also only listed as 168 lbs on Elite Prospects, though I have seen other sites/scouts list him in the 170's. This is something that could explain a) why he had those minor injuries since not having enough strength could mean he'd be taking more of the punishment rather than giving it with his playing style; and b) why he wasn't as effective in the first place. Agility is great, but so is power and explosiveness. Being able to be pushed around and banged up can affect decision making and execution.

Now, that doesn't necessarily excuse Jiříček's early season struggles – only explain it. It could mean that he lacks the skills or tools to overcome that, as other high end prospects (like his brother) tend to do. Almost every prospect at this age will need to get stronger and add muscle, but it's not as easy for some. If Jiříček can't bulk up and adjust his play to his circumstances, then being injury prone and lacking high end effectiveness are things that may not go away for him. He'll just be constantly chasing a level that he cannot reach.

The big thing about Jiříček is that, as of now, his hype (or lack of it) comes almost entirely down to potential. Everyone hyped him up because he seemed like he'd have the potential to be great, but the bit he played this year was more mixed. Without a larger and more recent sample of play to assess, you're going back to that potential that had not yet shown signs of truly being realized. So you're looking at his tools and wondering how much he can refine and develop his game to be consistent and mature, and what level he'll reach at the end.

However, the question marks are real and more pronounced for him than all of his peers, even if that isn't entirely his fault. There's just no getting around that when he missed so much time during one of the most important developmental years in his life. That and any potential lingering effects of the very serious injury and surgery he underwent are not things I can just ignore. In looking at all the classic "bust" picks for high profile prospects, injuries derailing their career when they're around this age comes up a lot. We've also seen how much missing a lot of playing time around this age can affect players' development.


Even before his injury, Jiříček's rankings had been slipping. While he may have had a small stretch before the WJC where he was earning more ice time and looked better than he had been, some reports on his play in Czechia's pro league and at the minor international tournament – The U20 Five Nations – were noting some concerns with his game.

In both of those examples, Jiříček was playing well above his age in terms of teammates and competition. It wasn't so much that people thought he was suddenly washed, but the expectations for him were so high. This is partially because his brother as a top defense prospect was someone he was constantly measured against, but also because last season and at the Hlinka, Jiříček looked worth of top prospect status.

Mind you, it wouldn't be the first time a prospect got overhyped before his draft year and from one or two short international tournaments compared to the rest of their draft season. While Bob McKenzie had Jiříček ranked 8th overall in September, after the Hlinka, he had dropped him down to 14th in his mid-season ranking. We won't know his final ranking until right before the draft, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was dropped at least a bit more.

This is where I jump in to say I don't give a shit about the worries about his injury and the question marks about a 19 game sample size in the pros. We're talking about who would be a good pick for Toronto's late first round pick, not if he's worthy of being a top defensemen in this draft. But the above all helps explain why his final rankings and ultimate draft position may drop further than it already has. It's a tough balance for me mentally while writing this – to explain why he may fall to Toronto, but also why he may be a steal and the Leafs should draft him if he does fall.

I'll fully admit I am trying to be very mindful not to overhype Jiříček based on the Hlinka and U20 Five Nations, where he played more against similar aged peers and looked great. I don't want to become everything that annoys me about overhyping prospects. But to me, if you want Toronto to swing on a potential 'steal' who could become a real impact player beyond what a late first rounder usually achieves, then swinging on highly touted prospect that fell because of an injury and small sample draft year is one way to do it.

So here's where I land on this after the balancing act I've done in my head weighing everything. I think that even with his flaws and question marks, Jiříček has the real potential to at least wind up as a useful two-way defender that could play on a second pairing. He has the tools, size and skills to be a good defender and decent puck mover, and I'll always value defensemen who have any kind of size combined with potentially elite skating. But he does have some risk, and I can understand why teams would be hesitant to use their first round pick(s) on him too early.

If, in a hypothetical world, Jiříček does fall to Toronto but they pass on him, I'd understand why and not be too upset. But if he does fall and Toronto does take him, I'll be extremely excited because I know they have judged that his potential is real. And I'm rooting for this to happen because god damn I was so in love with his game early in the season and I want it to be a thing.

Thanks for reading!

I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, NCAA, USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, and The Athletic.

Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!

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