I’m already bracing for some blowback on this article but so be it. This is not clickbait. I genuinely believe that Montreal Canadiens’ prospects Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar should join Owen Beck and play in the Canadian Hockey League this season. Please hear me out.
I understand that Montreal now has first-rate development coaches. I also understand that there is something to be said of a hulking player like Slafkovsky being physically ready for either the NHL or AHL. And I also understand that he is a first-overall pick and historically, such players have almost always made it onto the main team’s roster. But in his case, like Beck’s and Mesar’s, one year of playing in a lower-level league like the CHL would give them a degree of psychological confidence that no skills coach or player whisperer can.
According to Albert Einstein, “the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” Former GM Marc Bergevin finally realized this truth with Kaiden Guhle by having him play an additional year of junior hockey.
Guhle may not have liked being sent back to the WHL despite having a strong showing in the pre and early season but this was the best thing that ever happened to him from a hockey perspective. He became a better player despite being generally “NHL-ready” last October.
The benefits of being a 6th to 7th defenceman in no way matched what was gleaned in his dominating extra year of junior hockey.
I can’t think of one example in which a highly promising player was harmed by being sent to the juniors at 18 or 19.
Sure, some, such as Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, managed to thrive right from the get-go but for every Bergeron, there are 10 others who lowered their potential ceiling by taking on what usually is a 4th line role. I wonder what one extra year would have meant to Guillaume Latendresse?
It is generally asking too much from promising 18-year-olds to meet all the expectations that are heaped upon them by playing in the world’s best league while also under the intensely hot Montreal spotlight.
Mesar, Slafkovsky, and Beck are better off mastering their fundamental skills playing against lesser competition. They will get way more ice time in the CHL than either in the NHL or AHL. In the process, they will get the necessary repetitions required to maximize their offensive potential. The three will likewise develop significantly greater confidence. Scoring will become second nature to them.
And there’s also the psychological benefits of achieving great success in the juniors. Having memories of being a dominant player in the CHL will allow these players to draw upon them when times get tough. Confidence in sports is as essential as physical athletic potential. The two are intricately bound together.
I’ve seen plenty of players fail to reach their ceilings by entering the NHL too early. Imagine what the trajectory would have been for Jesperi Kotkaniemi had he spent a year in the CHL (if he was allowed) or even the Finnish league. Kotkaniemi is just one of many other examples of mismanaged development.
Surely, the tandem of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes know this. They are carefully trying to put back the broken pieces of Kirby Dach’s bungled development in Chicago.
Mesar, Slafkovsky, and Beck would not get “superstar” playtime treatment in either the AHL or NHL. Yes, they would have easier access to the Canadiens’ development coaches but this would be at the expense of robbing them of the critical psychological component of confidence – confidence that could elevate them to become clutch players come playoff time.
Let these players dominate for at least a year while being carefully monitored by Montreal’s development road team of Francis Bouillon, Rob Ramage, and various scouts. This worked well for Kaiden Guhle and it will also work for these three extremely promising players.
As temptingly tasty as it is to have, because of their contract structure, Mesar and Slafkovsky play on the big club, or in the AHL, doing so would be akin to pulling out a delicious cake before it is fully baked.
Development requires tremendous patience and discipline. These players have a ceiling that is very promising. Playing a year of dominant hockey in the OHL will not overcook them.
Denying Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar at least one more year of dominant play would be a strategic blunder by Gorton and Hughes. This management tandem realizes this for Beck (based on his status at the time that I am writing this column) and they should likewise follow suit with the two promising Slovaks.
The era of sink-or-swim/Groundhog Day-like development has to end. The Habs need to send all three to the CHL. Such a bold move would pay huge dividends for years to come. Do I see tomatoes being tossed at me?…