If the Canadiens are looking to make a huge statement at the draft, then selecting Juraj Slafkovsky may be just the splash they’ll make. A big budding power forward, who may be the most NHL-ready player in this draft, Slafkovsky has offensive talent and has excelled at international tournaments this season. Although Montreal is not tipping their hand on who they may select with the number one pick on July 7th, let’s examine some reasons why they may hitch their wagon to the big Slovakian.
DOB: March 30, 2004
Weight: 218 lbs
CSB (Europe): 1
Elite Prospects: 3
McKeen’s Hockey: 3
Hockey Prospectus: 1
Future Considerations: 4
The Hockey News: 5
TSN (Button): 2
TSN (McKenzie): 1
The Athletic (Pronman): 1
As a 15-year-old, Juraj moved from Slovakia to Finland in 2019 to play in the TPS U18 team, likely to face stiffer competition than he saw in his Slovakian home country. He scored at nearly a one-and-a-half points per game pace. He graduated the next season to the TPS U20 team, and continued his goal-scoring pace of a goal every other game, although his assists tailed off. In the off-season, he performed very well at the Hlinka-Gretzky summer tournament. Among his age group peers, he scored nine points in 5 games, to tie for fourth among all players.
For his 2021-22 draft season, he first started with the TPS U20 team and dominated with eighteen points in eleven games. That effort earned him a call up to the highest level TPS team, where, as a 17-year-old, he played with and against adult skaters. His point totals were not as prominent with ten points in thirty-one games, but he managed six points in the last seven games of the regular season. That hot streak included scoring a goal a game for four straight games.
It is during two international tournaments among professionals this season that Slafkovsky really impressed hockey scouts. At the Olympics, against some of the best non-NHL players in the world, he scored seven goals in the same number of games, which earned him the MVP award. That surprise performance helped lead his Slovak team in points and to a bronze medal. It seemed the Olympic experience gave him a great deal more confidence. At the World Championship tournament, Juraj scored nine points in eight games, including six assists. That performance, again, led his Slovak team in scoring.
In terms of talent, his forte is tilted more towards goal scoring where he can leverage his large body against smaller opponents. He has also shown very good passing abilities but seems to have taken on a goal-scoring mentality when the opportunity to drive the play on his line arises. His straight-line skating is good for his size, but he needs to work on his acceleration. It’s not poor, but needs more fine tuning to rise to the next level he will face. His exceptional skills are his puck possession and puck handling which help him to drive the play into the offensive zone and drive the net for scoring chances. That is where his size has also helped him, as he’s such a difficult target to neutralize, which helps his puck control. His shooting skills are strong, but at this time he scores the majority of the time in close to the net. His defensive game is above average, and he shows good tenacity and effort. He shows good anticipation on the forecheck, and can sometimes cause a turnover with his stick. Other parts of his defence needs more development.
When it comes to NHL player comparisons, NHL players like Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine come to mind, given their size and skill. Some draft experts and unnamed scouts believe Montreal is seriously considering Slafkovsky’s tempting package of size and skill enticing enough to draft first overall. If Juraj develops into a player like Wheeler, then it may not be prudent for Montreal to select him. However, if he develops into a game breaker like Laine, then it will be easier to rationalize.
As previously mentioned, Slafkovsky is very much NHL-ready due to his combination of size, skill, and dominating international experiences. That does not mean he should be expected to excel in the NHL right away. Like many teenage players, he will need time to adjust to the style of play at the highest hockey level. His size will help him with that, but he will also have new systems and new experiences (off and on the ice) to face. Practically every power forward prospect needs extra time to adapt at this level. If the NHL team that selects Juraj is patient in developing him, then I expect to see him become a significant contributor by no later than his third pro season.