On the bubble is a series examining the players in Montreal Canadiens training camp who are fighting for a roster spot. With limited space on the Habs main roster, there is not enough room for all of them. This series looks to figure out who has the best chance of making the team.
Next up: Jakub Jerabek
On the Bubble: Jakub Jerabek
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin‘s first move of the off-season was to sign Jakub Jerabek to a one-year ELC contract. At the time, it was viewed as Bergevin adding a prospect into the Habs system. With the benefit of hindsight, it was one of the most important moves of the off-season.
The Canadiens are desperate for a puck-moving defenceman. When he signed with the Habs, he was going to compete for a roster spot. This off-season, the Habs lost Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev through trades and veteran Andrei Markov in free agency. The expectations on Jerabek have changed significantly in the five months since he signed with the team.
Coming over from the KHL, Jerabek is an unknown right now. While he possesses the skill set the Canadiens need, it is his ability to adapt to the North American game that will determine if he stays with the Canadiens or heads to Laval this year.
The Montreal Canadiens signed Jerabek for his offensive abilities. He is an excellent passer with great vision. He sees the game very well and knows where to go with the puck. This offensive ability led to a 34 point season, good for fifth among KHL defensemen.
Jerabek uses his passing ability to great effect on breakouts. He looks for a player to pass to rather than simply dump the puck out of the zone. He is very communicative, often talking with players before a face-off to set up the breakout. Jerabek is always looking to turn defence into offence. He uses the stretch pass with great effect to switch the play.
Where Jerabek can really help the Canadiens is on the power play. He is a true power play “quarterback”. Jerabek is very comfortable distributing the puck and setting up the play. He knows when to pass and when to shoot. While he doesn’t possess a hard shot, he gets his through to the net.
Jerabek reads the game very well. He knows when to pinch and when to back off in the offensive zone. He also reads the game well in his own end. Jerabek is very much a disciple the Nicklas Lidstrom or Andrei Markov school of defending. He relies more on stick work and smarts to retrieve the puck and less on physicality. He doesn’t shy away from physical play, however. Jerabek also has no issues blocking shots.
The biggest question about Jerabek is his ability to transition his game from the European style to North American. While he can hold the puck to make plays, he will have to speed up his decision-making with less ice to work with.
Jerabek struggled a bit in his own end last season with Vityaz. While not afraid of physical play in the corners, he rarely engages in one-on-one puck battles along the boards, although part of that could be because they rarely happen in the KHL. Still, board battles occur more often in the NHL so he will need to make sure he is comfortable with them.
Jerabek’s does get into trouble with his positioning. He can get lost at times in his own end and takes some time to re-adjust. Sometimes he defaults to the front of the net, no matter the situation.
Jakub Jerabek has all the tools to make the NHL. The only thing holding him back is how he adjusts to the NHL game. The smaller rink means less time on the puck and more physical play. While he seems fine with the physical part of the game, he will need to engage in it more often than he is used to.
While his defensive game could use some refining, it’s important to note that he was playing on his wrong side all year. He was also saddled with weak defence partner who put him in difficult situations a lot last year. While he does not engage in too many puck battles, he has shown the ability to separate players from the puck. Still, with the Canadiens placing a high priority on defence, Jerabek will need to clean up his defensive errors.
Overall, Jerabek is in a great position to make the Canadiens. His ability with the puck is something the Canadiens desperately need. The Canadiens lack many true puck movers on defence and that is where Jerabek excels. He is also excellent on the power play, another area the Canadiens need to improve. Baring a catastrophic training camp and pre-season, Jerabek is a solid bet to make the Canadiens.