Slafkovsky, No. 1 pick in 2022 Draft, takes day one with Canadiens

BROSSARD, Quebec. Juraj Slafkovsky was right where he wanted to be on his first day on the ice as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

The No. 1 pick in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Montreal’s Bell Center was among 37 Canadiens prospects who skated into development camp and helped draw hundreds of fans to the suburban practice facility on Monday.

“It’s a hockey town, so everybody likes hockey and I just enjoy it,” said Slafkovsky, an 18-year-old striker. “I always wanted a place where they love hockey and I think I’m probably in the best place in the world for that. It’s totally different. They’re living a hockey life and I don’t think it’s anywhere else in the world like it.”

Slafkovsky (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) made history on July 7 when he and defenseman Simon Nemec (No. 2, New Jersey Devils) became the highest picks in the Slovakia NHL Draft, edging out Marian Gaborik (No. 3 by the Minnesota Wild in the 2000 NHL Draft).

“I think people went crazy and still are,” Slafkovsky said. “It’s a historic moment for Slovakia, so they have to be.”

Slafkovsky scored 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 31 regular season games for TPS in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 18 playoff games.
He was voted the Most Valuable Player of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, when he scored seven goals to help Slovakia win bronze, the country’s first Olympic medal.

“It’s great to be Canadian,” Slafkovsky said. “It’s the best thing that can happen to me and I just need to work hard to prove it.”

A video of Slafkovsky working out intensely during off-ice training Sunday had reporters wondering if he was trying to break the stationary bike.

“Of course, I want to damage everything here,” Slafkovsky said.

@CanadiensMTL tweet: 𝘉𝘌𝘈𝘚𝘛 𝘔𝘖𝘋𝘌 🔋#GoHabsGo

Slafkovsky, who was No. 1 in the final NHL Central Scouting international skater rankings, had the company of his childhood friend at camp, forward Filip Mesar, who was also selected by Montreal (No. 26).

“It’s a great thing that this happened, that we’re both on the same team,” Slafkovsky said. “I was saying before the draft to the other guys that it would be nice if we drafted two guys to the same team or whatever and it happened, so I’m happy to be here with him.”

It was the first time that Slovakia had three players chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft.

“It was a crazy night for Slovakia, and I was very surprised that I was drafted from Montreal to Montreal,” Mesar said. “It was something special and I am very happy to be here, and also with my friend, it was great. We were very good friends since we were children. And we kept pushing each other year after year and now we are here, and maybe that is a good opportunity to be better players and go to the next level”.

Canadiens forward prospect Sean Farrell faced Slafkosky during the Olympics, when Slovakia defeated the United States 3-2 in a penalty shootout during the quarterfinals.

“Everybody on our team was pretty shocked,” Farrell said. “He’s a cage kid at 17 and he was probably the best player on the ice for them, just big, powerful, he could really do it all for them. He’s got good hands, strong hands and a strong body.” also. We had a lot of professional players there as well and he would protect the puck away from them pretty easily.”

The Canadiens’ decision to pick Slafkovsky at No. 1 surprised some who expected it to be center Shane Wright, who was No. 4 to the Seattle Kraken.

“After seeing him play in person, I wasn’t surprised at all,” Farrell said. “I think a kid that big and that skilled is pretty rare, so I’m not surprised and I’m really happy for him too. It’s great to have a guy like that in camp and be able to play with him and stuff.” knowing him a little more is also amazing. He’s a really good guy and playing with him was fun too. Any time you get a chance to play with really good players like that, it’s great.”

Photo: Vitor Munhoz/Canadian Hockey Club Inc.

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