Jerabek gaining experience, hoping to earn new contract with Canadiens

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BROSSARD, Que. — This is all new to Jakub Jerabek.

He came to the Montreal Canadiens this past summer with no expectations. He was sent to the AHL’s Laval Rocket to get a better grasp of the North American game through the first six weeks of the season. And he’s since bounced between playing on any one of Montreal’s three defence pairings and sitting on the sidelines — where he’ll be for a third straight game when the Canadiens take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

“I’ve never really sat out before,” Jerabek told Sportsnet. “I’ve always been one of the leaders on my team.”

It’s why the Canadiens signed the 26-year-old out of the KHL in the first place, giving him a one-year, two-way, $925,000 deal.

The hope was that Jerabek would showcase the same skill that netted him a five-goal, 29-assist output, which ranked him fifth among KHL defencemen in scoring, earned him an all-star nomination and a saw him named a first-team all-ttar in his first season with Podolsk Vityaz.

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That kind of performance wasn’t a one-off for Jerabek, who led all defenceman in scoring in the Czech Republic’s Extraliga en route to being named the league’s top defenceman in 2015-16. That was after putting up seven goals and 32 points in 48 games in 2014-15.

He flashed that potential with the Rocket, scoring a goal and adding 10 assists in 17 games with them. But he hasn’t quite been given that type of opportunity in his brief time with the Canadiens. Over 25 games with Montreal, he’s scored a goal and three assists, averaged 17:20 in time on ice and played less than three minutes total on the power play.

“You can see he’s got great offensive instincts,” said Victor Mete, who had partnered with Jerabek more than anyone else has since his promotion from Laval. “He jumps into the rush quite a bit, too. I think his transition game is really solid.”

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Jerabek’s overall game had also been strong enough for Canadiens coach Claude Julien to trust him in heavier defensive matchups, playing him alongside Jordie Benn for games in recent weeks in No.1 defenceman Shea Weber’s absence.

“It was really good to play against the best guys, the best lines of each team,” Jerabek said. “It was a big challenge for me and I was really enjoying it, especially in a pair with Jordie. It was really good to play with him. I hope one day maybe we’ll get back together. But playing against the best guys in this league — I don’t know what better experience I could get.”

Sitting as a healthy scratch for six games certainly hasn’t been quite as valuable, but it’s still offered him perspective.

“It really is all a learning experience,” Jerabek said. “If you’re a healthy scratch, you’re still a part of the team. You have to watch the games and know what’s going on in every situation. I can learn, even if I watch the game. I can learn from other people’s mistakes, but I also learn from good breakouts, good plays, good positioning. There’s a lot of good guys with good experience I can learn from.”

True as that may be, it doesn’t make missing games any easier to digest.

Julien said on Tuesday that part of the reason Jerabek was scratched over the last two games was because he had struggled in the lead up to that decision, but he also acknowledged it was mostly due to the internal competition he’s trying to create on his defence.

That’s why Benn sat for a game last week, why David Schlemko was pulled out for one too, and why Joe Morrow missed a series of games before stepping into Jerabek’s spot.

Jerabek, who’s a pending unrestricted free agent, will get his chance to play again soon enough. He hopes to use it to prove to the Canadiens that he was worth the chance they took on him.

“I think I have improved, and that’s why I came over here — to be a better player and even a better person,” said Jerabek. “I hope I’m a better player every day, after every practice.”

Time will tell if the Canadiens agree.

Jerabek says no negotiations for a new contract have taken place with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin to this point, but he has expressed his desire to stay with the team to agent Allan Walsh.

“Me and my girlfriend really like this city, and I love playing for this team,” Jerabek said. “Sometimes it’s a hard winter, but even so we like it. I hope I’m going to be part of this team next season.”

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