With NHL training camps set to open, it’s not unusual for media types and fans alike to take a look at camp rosters and circle a name or two of players they think might be sleepers or pleasant surprises – unheralded guys who grab a job. I’m wondering if Jakub Jerabek might be that guy with the Edmonton Oilers.
While I mentioned Jerabek the other day in an item I wrote about players being brought into camp on value contracts – Jerabek comes in on a one-year deal for $1 million after being signed as an unrestricted free agent – I’d be talking through my hat about him if I suggested I had a lot of first-hand knowledge. Jerabek, after all, has all of 36 NHL games on his resume, split between the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals. I didn’t watch one of them.
Alan May, on the other hand, did. May, who works as an analyst for NBC covering the Capitals, had a lot of good things to say about the five-foot-11, 27-year-old lefty from the Czech Republic in an interview with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now today. Nothing beats eyes-on, and May certainly knows Jerabek, who played 11 regular season games with the Caps and two more in the playoffs on the way to hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Jerabek, who has played the vast majority of his games as a pro with Plzen in the Czech League, isn’t going to be a game-breaker if he sticks with this year’s edition of the Oilers, but to hear May tell it, he brings enough skills to the table that he might prove to be a very useful player in Todd McLellan’s third pairing on the blueline.
WHAT HE SAID
“He should have been a sixth (defenceman) as a Washington Capital,” May said when Stauffer asked if Jerabek could land a job in the third pairing. “He played very well every game that he was in but Barry Trotz had his guy that he was in love with from the start of the pre-season, the end of the year before, he decided this kid Christian Djoos was going to be on his team . . . he wasn’t taking Djoos out no matter what and Jerabek wasn’t going back in.
“Jerabek played very well in every game that he played for the Caps. He’s feisty along the boards. He’s a very good defender. Tough around the front of the net. He moves the puck up ice laser fast. He’s an excellent passer. He’s a north-guy, he doesn’t go to (his) partner all the time. He can play either side. I can definitely see him making that team and being a valuable contributor.”
That’s high praise, indeed, for a player who the Habs and the Caps didn’t manage to find room for beyond last season. “It’s because of his age, 100 per cent because of his age,” May said when asked why Jerabek wasn’t re-signed by Washington. “It’s also why he was available (from Montreal) at the deadline last year . . . I think they (Oilers) got a value signing in this kid.”
In offering the book on Jerabek, May stressed his ability to move the puck, which is something the Oilers have had issues with when Oscar Klefbom or Andrej Sekera, who is out for months, haven’t been in the line-up. “He doesn’t wind up a lot,” May said. “It snaps off his stick and it’s tape-to-tape up the ice. He doesn’t telegraph. He’s a very efficient hockey player.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
If May, a hard-nosed forward who played three games with the Oilers during an NHL career that spanned 393 games before moving into the broadcast booth, likes Jerabek this much for all of the reasons he’s stated, that’s good enough for me. If Jerabek delivers as billed once camp opens, he’ll be a fit on a blueline that needs what he brings.
We’ll see if that’s the case with our own eyes soon enough. If Jerabek turns out to be one of those pleasant surprises good teams uncover, it might be a bonus on two fronts. First, he can help the team right now. Second, he might enable the Oilers to resist the urge to rush Evan Bouchard or Ethan Bear along the development path. Sleeper? The Oilers can only hope.