When Jakub Jerabek found he had been traded from Edmonton to the Blues on Oct. 1, the first thing he did was look at the Blues’ roster for someone he knew. He put in a call to that player, someone he had played with on the Czech Republic junior national team many years before.
When he got hold of Dmitrij Jaskin, he found that Jaskin was not going to be a teammate. The Blues had put him on waivers that day to set their opening day roster and, in fact, you can draw a line that says if they didn’t acquire Jerabek, they didn’t have to deal Jaskin. Before Jerabek ever showed up in St. Louis, Jaskin was on his way on a waiver claim to Washington.
Still, the message Jerabek got from Jaskin was a positive one: “A great group of people,” Jerabek said, “a great locker room and the city and the stuff is nice here.”
Jerabek’s arrival in St. Louis was delayed while he awaited a visa, but that came through over the weekend and he now is ready to go. He practiced with the team for the first time Monday and skated alongside Robert Bortuzzo on Tuesday. Coach Mike Yeo has said Jerabek could make his Blues debut as soon as Thursday’s game against Calgary.
The question that hangs over all this is where Jerabek fits into the equation that is the Blues’ defense. As much as hockey lives by the axiom that you can never have too many defensemen, if there was one thing the Blues didn’t figure to need, it was yet another defenseman. The Blues had their seven regular defensemen from most of last season back, plus former first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz, plus promising prospect Jake Walman, plus veteran Chris Butler, plus up-and-coming Niko Mikkola. (Carl Gunnarsson, one of the regular seven from last season, is rehabbing from knee and hip operations.) The Blues started the season with an almost unheard of nine defensemen on the roster and at present, they have eight after sending Butler, who was one of their better defensemen over the first two games, back to San Antonio on Sunday.
In any case, their blue line overflows. Jerabek is a 27-year-old from Pilsen in the Czech Republic who is on his fourth NHL team in less than eight months, which is, by any standard, a lot. He was coming off a camp in Edmonton that did not earn him a roster spot, and it’s unclear if he’s in the Blues’ plans, if he will turn into a depth guy in the AHL or if he is the second coming of Nail Yakupov, the forward the Blues picked up for next to nothing from Edmonton two seasons ago on a flier in the hope that somehow his career would be revitalized in St. Louis. It wasn’t. Yakupov was a healthy scratch much of the season, was left unsigned after that year, spent one season playing in Colorado and is now back in Europe.
Is a similar situation likely for Jerabek? General manager Doug Armstrong has labeled him a five through seven defenseman, and the Blues are going to give him at least a look. Jerabek got an endorsement from San Antonio assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who coached him last season in Montreal.
“He’s a smart player,” Armstrong said, “moves the puck well, good first pass. A guy who has experience, not a lot of NHL experience, but he’s an older player, he’s played in the world championships, he’s played internationally, so he’s not going to be overwhelmed by the situation. ... You try to get better in this league by three or four percent at a time, and I thought our opportunity was to protect Jaskin and not make this deal ... (but) we felt with the depth we had behind Jaskin we had to make this deal because we saw how quickly your herd can get thinned on the back end, and we wanted some depth there.”
“Everything that we’ve heard about him is he is a gamer,” Yeo said. “He’s a veteran player who’s played the game, is poised in those games and so I’m anxious to see that side of him.”
To fit Jerabek into the Blues’ lineup, one of the team’s third pairing defensemen, Bortuzzo or Vince Dunn, would have to come out of the lineup, and Jerabek would have to jump over Schmaltz, who has all the makings of being the second coming of Nate Prosser, a defenseman the team kept around out of fear of losing him to a waiver claim if they tried to send him down. (Jerabek seems much more likely to make it through waivers.)
Jerabek played eight seasons for Plzen in the Czech league and one season in the KHL before coming to North America. “It’s a big challenge for every player,” he said. “Last year, I proved to myself I can be here, I can be a good part of a team. Hopefully I’m going to fit in here.”
He started 2017-18 playing for Laval in the AHL and then was called up by Montreal. He was traded to Washington, where he got in 11 games and two playoff games and then signed as a free agent with Edmonton in August. When it came time for the final camp cutdowns, Edmonton chose not to keep Jerabek. “They told me they wanted to stay with the young guys,” he said, “and now I’m here.”
Tuesday marked the first day Jerabek worked on five-on-five drills with his new team, the first time he was exposed in action to the team’s defensive framework.
“I think I will need a little bit of time to get used to it, but it’s not bad,” he said. “It’s going to be good. It’s kind of something from everything. It’s a great group, that makes it easier.”
Is four teams in eight months saying something? “I don’t know if it’s a good sign,” he said. “Talking to myself, I’m 27. I want to stay for a while somewhere.”
Can he fit in? “Hopefully,” he said. “I’m ready.”