While there was plenty of discussion leading up to the draft as to who Montreal would select, they went with the one who rose up the charts in the second half of the season, selecting Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky. He becomes the highest-ever drafted player from Slovakia.
DOB: Mar. 30, 2004
Weight: 218 lbs
CSB: 1 (European skaters)
Hockey Prospect: 1
Future Considerations: 3
TSN (Button): 2
TSN (McKenzie): 1
Elite Prospects: 3
Hockey Prospect: Juraj Slafkovsky is a high-octane – dynamic – line-driving power forward. We see Slafkovsky as a potential line driving, 200-foot, zone entry machine that breaks down opposing defenses in a myriad of ways. We think he’ll make up for some of the lost production relative to Wright, by playing a stronger, more intense, more overwhelming game that can ultimately give him a good chance to be the more effective player when the games matter most in the playoffs.
Elite Prospects: The appeal with Slafkovsky is obvious: He’s a 6-foot-4 playmaking power forward with soft hands, shooting skill, and the sort of wall game that would already rate as an above-average quality in the NHL. The first thing you notice is just how easily he retains possession under duress. It’s like watching a bully play keep away, one hand stiff-arming his victim out of reach and the other one waving their stolen item to mock them for good measure. If Slafkovsky wants the puck, then he takes the puck, and good luck getting it back.
Recrutes: He has a size/skill combination that is very rare indeed. I envision him being a larger version of Mikko Rantanen, and in this draft class that gets him a spot at the top of the rankings. His play at the Worlds only cemented his placement at the top of the draft for me – he checks off every box and has huge upside.
Draft Prospects: Skilled, scoring, strong, physical, power forward. Uses his strength to get into great positions down low. Great at getting leverage and pushing defenders back. Handful for anyone to deal with in front of the net. Scores the majority of his goals in tight. On the rush, he will often look to take on multiple defenders at a time. Looks great when it works, but that is the minority of the time. Average skater. Has a powerful stride and good straight-line speed. However, his acceleration is hindered by slow crossovers. Should look to develop quicker feet to become dominant off-the-rush. Menace on the forecheck.
Corey Pronman, The Athletic: Slafkovsky has all the assets you’re looking for in a top NHL forward. He’s a 6-foot-4 winger who can beat opponents with speed and skill. He posseses outstanding puck skills, and can put pucks through legs and sticks at a very high rate. Slafkovsky can use finesse, or power and quickness to get around defenders. Slafkovsky can also set up and finish plays well. Physically, he won’t run over guys but his compete is good enough. He projects as a top-line winger with the potential to pop and become be a true star in the NHL.
Scott Wheeler, The Athletic: Slafkovsky is built like a power forward, with a 218-pound frame that makes him one of the draft’s heaviest players, but he plays the game with uncharacteristic finesse, regularly flashing hands you’d expect out of a smaller player one-on-one to pull pucks in tight to his feet. He’s also got a rangy, fluid stride, which makes him a surprisingly dangerous rush player — and impressive confidence with the puck on his stick, which enables him to hang onto it (sometimes to a fault) and attack off the wall into the slot (he loves taking the puck from the half wall to the home plate area to shoot from his forehand. The team that drafts him will be betting on his upside, which grades at or near the very top of this class.
McKeens: It remains simply special to see how he reads the game and how he sets up teammates. So often, he creates space through a move made possible by his often-breathtaking skating, then maximizes it by getting the puck to a teammate for a strong scoring opportunity. Likewise, the lethalness of both his wrist and snapshots gets too little attention because he’s so often driving the puck to the net that they go underused. Both are extremely deadly.
Dobber Prospects: While he still isn’t the greatest skater, the developmental leap he’s taken over the season has been great. He has strong posture, and he went from having a very short stride to having a solid, powerful stride. Slafkovsky’s biggest strengths are definitely around his offensive game. He’s a great puck handler with a strong stick, who can flash some great skill moves. While he isn’t the most diligent shooter, he has a great wrist shot which he should use even more. Maybe his hesitancy shooting has something to do with the fact that he has shown some minor problems with shooting from tight spaces. However, our team has seen improvement in that area as well this season. With his good skill and improved skating, he has become a great transitional player, who is creative after zone entries.
LWOS: Slafkovsky’s size also helps him in the defensive end. His long stick is very good at cutting down passing lanes. He is also strong on the boards and helps to contain the cycle down low. He needs to work on his awareness and positioning though. Slafkovsky can sometimes get out of position and lose his man. He has a tendency to puck watch at times, losing his man away from the play. Slafkovsky shows high effort and commitment though. He should improve in time with good coaching. He has the tools to be a strong two-way player but is still very raw.
First-overall picks almost always make the jump right away to the NHL with Owen Power being one of the few exceptions last year (although he finished this past season in the NHL). Slafkovsky certainly has the body type to be with the Canadiens in 2022-23 although his quiet season in Finland could give Montreal pause to have him play to start next season. One nice thing about European-drafted picks is that they’re not subjected to the minimum age requirement in the minors so he could see some time in Laval. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets nine games at a minimum and if they do have some reservations about his immediate NHL readiness, a split season between the Habs and Rocket that burns his first entry-level year but keeps him under the 40-game mark (to not accrue a season towards UFA eligibility like Edmonton once did with Leon Draisaitl). Either way, Slafkovsky should see some NHL time at a minimum next season.