21. Christian Jaros (Reader Rank: 21, Last Year: 11)
It feels like Christian Jaros has been one breakthrough away from locking up a full-time spot with the Ottawa Senators for three seasons now. After being selected by the Sens in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, Jaros came over to North America at the start of the 2017-18 season. At the outset of that campaign, the team featured Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci firmly entrenched at the top of the depth chart on the right side, with Chris Wideman rounding out the top six. Jaros was expected to spend the majority of his time in the AHL, where he would acclimate to the North American game and bide his time until an opening on the big club presented itself.
For a moment, Jaros was regarded as the best right-handed shot defense prospect in the organization. Needless to say, his tumble from 11th in our rankings last year to 21st this year tells the story of a prospect who has gradually seen his standing in the organization become lesser and lesser.
I won’t re-hash the ins and outs of the Sens trading Karlsson following the 2017-2018 season, but for the purpose of this article, suffice it to say that a spot opened up on the Sens’ blueline and Jaros walked right into it. In 2018-19, Jaros played 61 games and averaged 14:22 of ice-time; right in line with what you’d expect for a third-pairing defenseman. He was tasked with playing a defensive, physical style of game and he mostly did as he was asked. The 2018-19 Sens were not exactly juggernauts, either on offence or defence, but they did fare a bit better defensively when Jaros was on the ice than when he was off it. No matter how you cut it, the team’s defensive shot and chance metrics were both improved with the young Slovak defenseman patrolling the blueline.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends for Jaros. That edition of the Sens, already very weak offensively, struggled substantially more when Jaros was on the ice. Part of this was related to who Jaros played with that season — Mark Borowiecki and Ben Harpur are not particularly known for creating high-grade scoring chances. As an aside, if there’s one thing that I hope the Sens take into consideration while they rebuild the blueline, it is how imperative it is in today’s NHL that at least one defenseman per pairing be good-to-very good at moving the puck, and it’s preferable if both can do it well. In 2021, if even your third pair is just two bangers, you’re bound to be in trouble. But I digress.
Part of those inept results come back to the limitations in Jaros’ game. He’s not a total liability with the puck, but he’s also very much prone to simply winging it around the boards without finding a suitable outlet — especially when he’s under pressure. If I had to venture a guess, I would suggest this has more to do with his decision-making than it does his skating as Jaros moves pretty well for someone his size. Regardless, the net result is that while his play in his own end is usually sound, he ends up spending more time in there than he should. If Jaros hopes to crack an NHL lineup full-time, he would be well-served to focus on that area of skill development.
So when the Sens’ roster turned over again during the 2019 off-season, out went Ceci and in came Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey, Jaros found himself as the odd man out and back in the AHL for the majority of the 2019-2020 season. On the one hand, it’s fair to wonder how much it benefitted the organization to have the 38-year-old Hainsey eating up a roster spot instead of Jaros, but if Jaros had done more to lock down his position the season before the question would have been moot.
Furthermore, after the second-to-last place finish in 2019-20, Pierre Dorion clearly saw the right side of the defence as a major problem because he went out and acquired Artyom Zub, Erik Gudbranson, and Joshua Brown. Without putting too fine a point on it, the Sens have also spent first round draft picks on Jacob Bernard-Docker (2018) and Lassi Thomson (2019) since Jaros came to North America. If the Sens saw Jaros as part of the solution on the right side, they wouldn’t have gone out of their way to put as many as five defencemen between him and a spot in the league.
All this being said, Jaros is still only 24 (he’s younger than Zub, for instance) and he’s proven himself to be quite adept in the AHL. If you’re looking for another reason for optimism, Jaros should enter training camp completely healthy for the first time in a while. In the press release announcing his re-signing, Pierre Dorion even stated Jaros had been hampered by injury last season. Maybe a clean slate of health will be just the ticket. Besides, the Sens’ right side isn’t exactly stacked as of this writing; and neither Thomson nor Bernard-Docker figure to be in the plans for the upcoming season. It’s not too much of a stretch to envision a situation where Jaros outperforms at least a couple of the players that are currently penciled in to play defense for the Sens this year. Will that be enough to get him back to the top league in the world? Or is he just a tweener?