When Bob Mackenzie published his book Draft mid-season rankings In January, Juraj Slafkovský was ranked fifth in the list compiled from various scouts around the NHL. The winger didn’t look particularly impressive while playing in the Finnish league, with a total of four points (1G, 3A) over 20 matches at press time.
Slafkovský’s entry-level work showed a lot of promise for him to get it off the ground. He had only been suspended twice in 12 games in SM-sarja, Finland’s under-20 league, having scored nine points (3G, 6A) in five matches in the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup prior to his draft season.
His showing at that summer under-18 tournament foreshadowed what his international season would be like. He started gaining more attention after three weeks of McKenzie’s mid-season refresh when the Winter Olympics began.
In the first match in Beijing, which was held against the Finland team, Slavkovsky scored Slovakia’s two goals in a 6-2 loss. He also had goals in the next two matches against Sweden and Latvia. He opened the scoring against Team USA in a quarter-final match won by the Slovaks on penalties, and while his team fell to the Finns for the second time in the semi-finals, he managed to defeat Sweden in the bronze medal match, when Slavkovsky scored a goal. The last two times, bringing his tally in the Olympic Games to seven.
Three more goals and six assists in the World Championships to end his season cemented his status as a top actor, and allayed some concerns about what he did in the league.
There were many other good players available when he was Montreal Canadiens I took to the podium on July 7 to make the first comprehensive selection in 2022 NHL Project. It was largely expected that Shane Wright would be the name given to the lockup, but there was another center, Logan Cooley, who was also highly regarded, and an impressive pair of defenders, Simon Nemec and David Jerichek, who could have earned this selection. also. But the survey crew and management liked Slafkovský as the best, which made him the franchisor’s choice at number one.
11 out of 12 ballot papers have Slavkowski as one of the top four under 25 players in the organization two months after that somewhat surprising selection. The majority put him in third place, although five of the participants made him behind Kayden Gohley’s 2020 first-round pick on their ballots.
The most obvious characteristic when Slafkovský made his way onto the stage in front of the Bell Center crowd was his size. He became the organization’s top striker upon selection, standing 6’3″ and weighing 238 pounds in his latest training camp refresh, surpassing 227 pounds by Josh Anderson.
However, there is a little more to hockey than just being big. The player needs to understand how to use his frame to his advantage, or it can become a hindrance to his playing. Habs’ previous lottery pick, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, was of the same height but was easily brought down in physical melee. Slafkovský is more stable on his sledge, he is able to take on big opponents, and this is the solid base for his entire match.
His work is exceptional along the boards, as he often wins his fights, demands possession of the disc and uses his mass and long reach to fend off opponents. Cheating hands make it even more unfair to defenders trying to recover the disc because he can quickly drag it into areas they can’t reach to escape his perimeter position and work into more dangerous areas.
He loves to drive through the middle of the ice to create opportunities, which his imposing structure and ability to handle allow him to get around. He’s been criticized for possibly doing this a lot in the last rookie tournament, but there are a few players in the organization who have the desire and ability to make it happen, and it was heartening to see at least one player making an attempt, and it should open up different looks to attack if incorporated into Team attack.
Despite ticking many boxes on the strength checklist, Slafkovský’s offensive game is more about playmaking than finishing. It’s an excellent disc distributor, and it holds hands for clear and precise passes. He shows good awareness in the attacking area to find his teammates and makes quick readings when withdrawing from a corner with the new possession of quick-hitting opportunities.
Supporting all of these skills is a confidence that is not often seen in prospects. He is fully aware of how effective his skill set is, and anecdotal reports have this self-confidence as one of the factors that led Montreal to choose him over other options for a better choice.
The only element that the Scout identified as lacking in his kit was his ability to skate. He has an ineffective stride that sees a lot of movement and wasted energy. It’s something he worked on during draft year, and there were several turns at the Buffalo Junior Show when he showed incredible closing speed to win two legs of the puck. The shortcomings appear to be due more to a lack of proper technique than any physiological constraints, so if development coach Adam Nicholas can improve the stride and divert more energy into gaining speed and changing direction quickly, Slafkovský could become a true offensive force.
It may take more work to bring his defensive game to a similar level. He has not yet formed the defender’s good habits of tracking his surroundings, getting into the perfect position, and choosing the best time to engage the attacker. These are the things that can be taught if he wants to work, and his size and reach must allow him to have a certain level of success while those other talents advance.
There is the potential for Slafkovský to become a great player, but managing expectations will be important to him – and to every other senior squad of the 2022 class. Neither player has been seen as a cornerstone of the future franchise; Wright, in Choosing our dummy project From days before the draft, he was chosen knowing his roof might be the second-line center roof (while we also thought his floor wasn’t much lower than that). Slafkovský does not guarantee that he will become a first-class player in the NHL.
It might be more of a supplement piece for an offensive line, a player grinding in dirty to get pucks for teammates who couldn’t. He will assist in the game bike and help move the disc from the perimeter of the offensive zone to the middle of the ice.
This is just a skill set that Montreal’s best players (spoiler alert), Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, don’t have. Both are talented offensive players, but not when they also have to engage in board fights. If that was the trio that Martin St. Louis chose to run when he made Slavkovsky the team, being in the attack zone would look like a Slovak fighting with a defensive man in the corner while Suzuki and Coffield try to find some open space to score once he has the disc.
With Slafkovský’s skill set, he can play in a variety of line configurations, and any role would be an option if his defensive game improved. At the very least, he could become a sixth-place player trying to keep the ball out of his net at 200 feet, but there’s plenty of offensive skill with which he can’t make a more impactful role.
The current question is when he will be appointed to such a role at the NHL level. The Canadians haven’t had much success with the recent High Draft selections, and will want to make sure Slafkovský’s development is handled properly. Maybe that ultimately means getting used to the NHL pace right away, or maybe it means spending most of the season in the AHL growing his professional game before making that leap. We’ll get our first real clue as to where he’s playing when he enters pre-season events in the coming days.
We managed to have a great guest on a podcast today. Timo Konari from Iltalehti (Finland’s largest newspaper). Timo watched Slafkovský’s closing last year, and reached out to his contacts within TPS ahead of the podcast to give us a better understanding of last season’s performance: