When Bob McKenzie launched his preseason draft rankings in January, Juraj Slafkowski was ranked fifth on the listing compiled by numerous NHL scouts. The winger hasn’t appeared significantly spectacular within the Finnish league, with a complete of 4 factors (1G, 3A) in 20 video games on the time of publication.
Slafkowski’s low-level work gave him an excessive amount of promise to push up the order. He scored simply twice in 12 video games with Finland’s under-20 aspect SM-sarja after posting 9 factors (3G, 6A) in 5 video games within the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup earlier than the beginning of the draft season.
His performances on the Below-18s this summer time foreshadowed what his season would seem like at worldwide degree. Three weeks after McKenzie’s mid-season replace, she started to garner extra consideration when the Winter Olympics started.
Within the first sport towards Finland in Beijing, Slafkovski scored each targets in Slovakia’s 6-2 loss. He additionally scored targets in two matches towards Sweden and Latvia. He defeated the Slovaks in a shootout towards the USA within the quarterfinals, and his crew misplaced to Finland for the second time within the semifinals, however Slafkowski scored within the bronze-medal sport to beat Sweden. Within the final two instances, the Olympic success has elevated to seven.
One other three targets and 6 assists on the World Cup to cap off his season cemented his standing as a participant on the massive stage and allayed some issues about his efficiency in league play.
When the Montreal Canadiens took the rostrum to make their first choice within the 2022 NHL Draft on July 7, there have been a number of different good gamers. Shane Wright was closely tipped to be the Habs’ title, however one other middle, Logan Cooley, was extremely regarded, and a formidable pair of defensemen in Simon Nemec and David Jiricek may be chosen. However the scouting and administration workers appreciated Slafkowski probably the most, making him the franchise’s No. 1 general decide.
In 11 of the 12 ballots, Slafkowski was named a prime 4 participant below the age of 25, solely to be stripped of that spectacular choice only a few months later. Many had him ranked third, however 5 contributors voted him behind Kaiden Goulet as a 2020 first-round decide.
The story of #3
When Slafkowski took the stage in entrance of the Bell Middle crowd, probably the most noticeable attribute was his dimension. After being drafted, he overtook 227-pound Josh Anderson at 6’3” and 238 kilos to turn into the group’s tallest ahead.
Nevertheless, there may be extra to hockey than being huge. A participant wants to grasp how you can use his vary to his benefit, or it might hinder his play. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Habs’ earlier lottery decide, was the identical top, however was simply dropped in a bodily altercation. Slafkowski is extra constant on his skates and may tackle greater opponents, a strong basis for his complete sport.
His work is phenomenal alongside the boards, the place he wins extra battles, calls for possession of the puck, and makes use of his mass and lengthy arms to maintain opponents at bay. Sensible palms can shortly pull out of attain to flee their place on the perimeter and work into extra harmful areas, creating an unfairness for defenders making an attempt to win again.
He likes to drive throughout the ice to create alternatives, and his nice vary and dealing with skill enable him to just do that. He was criticized for doing a bit an excessive amount of within the latest rookie event, but it surely was encouraging for a participant to not less than attempt, and there are few gamers within the group with the will or skill to drag that off. If it is included within the crew’s offense, it ought to open up quite a lot of offensive appears.
Regardless of checking off many packing containers on the offensive guidelines, Slafkowski’s offensive sport is extra about making performs than ending. He’s an excellent passer and makes crisp, correct passes along with his palms. He has a knack for locating teammates within the offensive zone and permits for fast photographs when popping out of the nook on newly received possessions.
Backing up all of those expertise is a confidence that is not usually seen in prospects. He is absolutely conscious of how efficient his expertise are, and in Montreal, he factors out that his confidence is likely one of the components that made him select him over different choices.
One factor Scout’s equipment lacked was the power to skate. He has inefficient steps that see a whole lot of wasted motion and power. It is one thing he is labored on all through his draft yr, transitioning by a number of shifts in his rookie showdown in Buffalo and profitable races for the puck with spectacular closing pace. That lack seems to be extra a scarcity of correct approach than any physiological limitation, so if improvement coach Adam Nicholas can enhance his stride and convert extra power into pace and fast change of path, Slafkowski may turn into an actual offensive drive. .
His defensive play might have some work to carry it as much as par. He has but to develop the habits of a top quality defender to watch his environment, get into the most effective place and select the most effective time to tackle an attacker. These are issues he can educate if he is prepared for the job, and his dimension and vary will enable him to succeed at a sure degree whereas his different abilities develop.
Slafkowski has the potential to be an awesome participant, however managing expectations can be essential for him and all different prospects within the 2022 draft. Not one of the gamers had been seen as future franchise cornerstones; Wright, our mock draft decide a number of days earlier than the draft, knew his ceiling would possible be that of a No. 2 middle (although we did not assume his flooring could be a lot decrease than that). Slafkowski is not assured to be the most effective winger within the NHL.
He won’t be an additional on the offensive line, however a participant who grinds within the filth to get the ball to his teammates. He helps with the wheel sport and helps get the puck from the perimeter of the offensive zone to the center of the ice.
It is a talent that Montreal’s two greatest gamers (spoilers), Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, do not possess. Each are offensively gifted gamers, however do not must be concerned in board battles. If it is Martin St. Louis because the three when Slafkowski makes the crew, the offensive zone will seem like Suzuki and Caufield looking for one-and-done scoring alternatives whereas battling a Slovakian defender within the nook. he has the puck.
With Slafkowski’s talent set, he can play in quite a lot of line configurations, and if his defensive play improves, he can play any function. On the very least, he is usually a bottom-six probing winger who tries to maintain the puck 200 ft from the web, however his offensive expertise can not help however make him extra impactful.
The query now’s when will he be thrust into that function on the NHL degree? The Canadiens have not had a lot success with excessive draft picks in recent times, they usually’ll need to handle Slafkowski’s improvement. Possibly meaning lastly getting acclimated to the pace of the NHL straight away, or possibly it means spending many of the season within the AHL to develop his professional sport earlier than making that leap. We’ll get our first actual indication of the place his sport is as he heads into preseason coaching within the coming days.
We have got an awesome visitor on at present’s podcast; Timo Kunnari of Iltaleht (Finland’s largest newspaper). Timo watched Slafkowski’s closing final yr and reached out to his TPS contacts earlier than the podcast to get a greater understanding of final season’s efficiency.