2022 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #3 Juraj Slafkovský

When Bob McKenzie published his Preliminary Mid-Season Rankings in January, Juraj Slafkovský was fifth on the aggregate list of various NHL scouts. The winger did not look particularly impressive while playing in the Finnish Liiga, with a total of four points (1W, 3A) from 20 games at the time the article was published.

Slafkovský’s work at Junior level showed too much promise for him to slide too far down the order. He had been declared unfit just twice in 12 games in SM-sarja, Finland’s under-20 league, after scoring nine points (3W, 6A) in five games in the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup before his draft season.

His performance in that summer under-18 tournament foreshadowed what his season would be like at international level. He started getting more attention three weeks after McKenzie’s mid-season update when the Winter Olympics began.

elite prospects

In the first game in Beijing, played against the Finnish team, Slafkovský scored both of Slovakia’s goals in a 6–2 loss. He also scored goals in the next two matches against Sweden and Latvia. He opened the scoring against the US team in a quarterfinal match that the Slovaks won on penalties, and although his club fell to the Finns for the second time in the semifinals, they managed to defeat Sweden in the game. for the bronze medal, when Slafkovský scored. two finals times to bring his Olympic tally to seven.

Another three goals and six assists at the World Championship to conclude his season solidified his status as a great player and allayed some concerns about what he had done in the league.

There were several other good players available when the Montreal Canadians stepped onto the podium on July 7 to make the first overall pick in 2022 NHL draft. Shane Wright was largely expected to be the name the Habs called, but there was another center, Logan Cooley, who was also highly regarded, and an impressive pair of defenders, Simon Nemec and David Jiricek, who could have earned that pick as well. . But the scouting and management staff liked Slafkovský better, making him the franchise’s number one pick.

Vote

Eleven of the 12 ballots have Slafkovský as one of the top four players under 25 in the organization, a couple of months after that somewhat surprising selection. Most have him at No. 3, though five panelists have him trailing 2020 first-round pick Kaiden Guhle on their ballots.

Story of #3

Year #3
Year #3
2021 Alexander Romanov
2020 cole caufield
2019 Jonathan Drouin
2018 arturi lehkonen
2017 arturi lehkonen
2016 mikhail sergachev
2015 Nathan Beaulieu
2014 Nathan Beaulieu
2013 max pacioretty
2012 Alex Galchenyuk
2011 max pacioretty
2010 Lars Eller

Strengths

The most obvious trait when Slafkovský took the stage in front of the Bell Center crowd was his size. He became the organization’s biggest forward following his selection, standing at 6’3” and weighing 238 pounds in the most recent training camp update, dwarfing Josh Anderson at 227 pounds.

However, there is more to the game of hockey than just being big. A player needs to understand how to use his frame to his advantage, or it can become a hindrance to his game. The Habs’ previous lottery pick, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, was of a similar stature but was easily beaten in physical altercations. Slafkovský is much more stable on his skates, able to deal with big opponents, and that is the solid base of his whole game.

His work is exceptional on the boards, where he wins his battles more often than not, demanding possession of the puck and using his mass and long range to keep opponents at bay. Skillful hands make it more unfair to defenders trying to get the puck back, as he can quickly take it into areas they can’t reach to escape his perimeter position and work into more dangerous areas.

He likes to drive around the middle of the ice to create opportunities, which his imposing frame and stick-handling ability allow him to do. He was criticized for doing that perhaps too much in the recent rookie tournament, but there are few players in the organization who have the willingness and ability to pull that off, so it was encouraging to see a player at least try, and it should open up different looks. for the offense if he joins the team’s attack.

Despite ticking many of the boxes on the power forward checklist, Slafkovský’s offensive game is more about playmaking than finishing. He is an excellent puck dealer, using his hands to make crisp, accurate passes. He shows good knowledge in the offensive zone to find teammates and makes quick reads when he comes out of a corner with newly won possession for quick hitting opportunities.

Backing up all of these skills is a confidence you don’t often see in prospects. He’s fully aware of how effective his skill set is, and anecdotal reports have that confidence as one of the factors that led Montreal to pick him over other options for the first pick.

weaknesses

The one item the scouts identified as missing from his toolkit was his ability to skate. He has an inefficient gait that sees a lot of wasted movement and energy. It’s something he worked on during his draft year, and there were several changes in the rookie display in Buffalo as he showed incredible closing speed to win runs for the puck. It seems the shortcomings stem more from a lack of proper technique than physiological limitations, so if developmental coach Adam Nicholas can refine the stride and convert more energy into gaining speed and changing direction quickly, Slafkovský could become a real offensive force. .

It may take a little more work to bring your defensive game up to a similar level. He has not yet formed the habits of a quality defender to monitor his surroundings, get into the ideal position and choose the best time to engage an attacker. Those are things that can be taught if he’s willing to put in the work, and his size and scope should allow him to have some level of success while those other talents progress.

Projection

There is potential for Slafkovský to become a great player, but managing expectations will be important for him, and every other top prospect in the 2022 draft class. Neither player was considered a cornerstone of the future franchise; Wright, in our selection of mock draft days before the draft, he was picked knowing his ceiling might be that of a second-tier center (while we also thought his floor wasn’t much lower). Slafkovský is not guaranteed to become a top winger in the NHL.

He can be more of a complementary piece to an offensive line, a player who works in the foul areas to get pucks for teammates who might not otherwise. It will aid in cycle play and help carry the puck from the offensive zone perimeter to center ice.

That’s a skill set Montreal’s top two players (spoiler alert), Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, don’t possess. They are both gifted offensive players, but not when they also have to engage in board battles. If this is the trio that Martin St. Louis chooses to run when Slafkovský is part of the team, the presences in the offensive zone will look like the Slovakian struggling with a defender in the corner while Suzuki and Caufield try to find some open space for goalscoring opportunities. one time. he has the disk.

With Slafkovský’s skill set, he could play in a variety of line setups, and any role would be an option if his defensive game improves. At a minimum, he could become a back-six control winger trying to keep the puck 200 feet from his net, but there’s too much offensive skill for him not to carve out a more impactful role.

The current question is when he will take on that role at the NHL level. The Canadiens haven’t had much success with the latest high-draft picks, and they’ll 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 to grow his pro game before making that leap. We’ll get our first real indication of where his game is when he goes into preseason action in the coming days.


We got a fantastic guest on today’s podcast; Timo Kunnari from Iltalehti (Finland’s largest newspaper). Timo saw Slafkovský close last year and reached out to his contacts within TPS prior to the podcast to give us a better understanding of last season’s performance:


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