Juraj Slafkovsky’s rookie campaign wasn’t the best but there also is certainly plenty of room for improvement. What should the expectations be for him in 2023-24? Our writers offer up their thoughts.
Terry Costaris: I have very few expectations for Slafkovsky this coming season. Hockey is too unpredictable a sport to accurately project what any player will do. Every NHLer is one hit away from a season-ending injury. Having said this, in a perfect world, I would be very happy if Slafkovsky gets 40-plus points and stays healthy for at least 70 games.
This might be a big ask. The kid is very raw and still learning. If he can keep his head up and not suffer another long-term injury, then this in itself would be a big step in his slow and steady development. We fans need to temper our expectations.
Where I live, delicious corn stalks are nearing their fruition. I can’t wait. What I can’t do though is get frustrated with their growth. Doing so will not make them ripen any faster. Big power forward types like Slafkovsky need time to develop. As I fan, I need to manage my expectations and just patiently wait for him to ripen with time. This is easier said than done but it’s absolutely necessary.
I would not be surprised if Slafkovsky is sent down to Laval for a few months. Sometimes, you need to take a step back in order to better develop. I just hope that both he and his new roommate Filip Mesar do not succumb to the temptations of life in Montreal and become “two wild and crazy guys from Slovakia” – if you catch my 70s SNL reference here.
In summary, then, I simply want Slafkovsky 1) to avoid succumbing to the temptations of temptation-filled Montreal, 2) to no longer get clocked, 3) to improve on his production, and 4), to show more speed in his game.
Right now, I’m keeping the bar low. Two years into the future though, I won’t. By then, I will be banking on seeing someone who epitomizes first overall material.
Allan Katz: Slafkovsky’s arrival in Montreal came with great fanfare typical of a first pick in the NHL draft. Yet as the season progressed it became very clear he was not ready for NHL-calibre speed and talents. The reasons Slafkovsky was not demoted included the concern that AHLers were going to make a show of knocking down and beating up on the NHL premier pick. Another reason given was the odd point that if he fails in the AHL he will lose his confidence. So, what happened? He got his proverbial head knocked off a number of times with concussions a very serious concern. Slafkovsky failed in the NHL. I don’t care what silver linings anyone points out this was the number 1 failure, so far, of the Gorton/Hughes era.
So now year two of Slafomania kicks in with a more sober fan base. It’s hard not to like the kid. He seems to have a huge heart, supposedly has spent the offseason working really hard, and has lost weight to help with his quickness issues. Many saw the video of Juraj wearing sci-fi glasses which purport to help his vision including keeping his head up. He also worked on lung capacity and, according to him, he was such a savant that his lung capacity improvement blew the instructor away. So, if all this is true let’s take a gander at what his stats might look like at season end.
I’m going to assume his hard work pays off and I’m going to map out how I came up with his numbers. I’m going to almost double his games played from 39 to 76. I’m going to triple his goals scored from four goals to 12 goals. I’m going to triple his assists from six to 18. I’m going to increase his average time played by 33% from 12:12 to 16:18 per game. These results are his floor for the season and based on doubling and tripling numbers it’s quite optimistic. Having said that I’m going to add another 33% to his goals (to account for his increased playing time that should have some power play action too) and assists to come up with a number that should be his target for the season, anything less will be disappointing, and below his floor numbers even more concerning. So here it goes, Slafkovsky’s 2023-2024 optimistic though realistic season stats:
GP – 76
Goals – 16
Assists – 24
Points – 40
Time on Ice – 16.18
The strange part is that his final numbers seem both way too high a projection and way too low a forecast for a first pick’s second season. At the end of the day, the bigger question is going to be “What type of player will Slafkovsky be in two more seasons?”
Brian La Rose: My hope is that Slafkovsky is in the AHL for an extended stretch next season. He can then be a go-to guy while still having some room to develop. Basically, do what they should have done last year. However, my expectation is that he won’t be sent down.
We’re at the point of the offseason where projected line combinations are quite popular. I’m seeing Slafkovsky in the top six in quite a few of those and I’m not quite sure why. He wasn’t anywhere close to that level last season and a good summer of training isn’t going to suddenly make him a top-six piece. Sean Monahan is healthy and Alex Newhook is probably going to get an early look. They’re more likely to crack a top-six spot.
I expect Slafkovsky to be around the 12-minute mark in the early going with the hopes of getting him closer to the 14-15 range at the end of the season. At that point, ideally improved play coupled with some injuries could result in some time on the second line. That should have him around a dozen goals for the season and around 30 points. That’s not an exciting stat line by any stretch but it’s a slow and steady step in the right direction. Slow and steady is how it’s going to be with Slafkovsky’s development.
Daniel Marsh: According to the Twitter account Big Head Hockey, the players in the NHL last year who were listed at 6’3”+ and 235lbs+ and scored the most points were as follows:
Alex Ovechkin – 75 pts
Anders Lee – 50 pts
Nick Ritchie – 26 pts
Milan Lucic – 19 pts
Juraj Slafkovsky – 10 pts
Of those same players, Slafkovsky was the ONLY player to register a point as an 18-year-old player in the NHL. He was also the only player on the list to play at 18 years old. So, the question has to be asked, what can we reasonably expect in his sophomore season?
Ritchie was taken 10th overall in 2014 (Anaheim) and never really put together a dominant offensive season topping out at 31 points over 60 games in 2018-2019 – four years after being drafted. Ovechkin doesn’t really need to be analyzed as he has been one of the NHLs most formidable snipers of all time. But even he did not play in his rookie season right after his draft year. But as the only other top 10 pick on the list and the only other 1st overall pick, it sure would be nice to dream of the type of player Habs Nation would love Slafkovsky to develop into. But the truth is, when Ovechkin did break into the NHL the following year, he put up his first 50+ goal and 100-point campaign to begin his illustrious career.
Realistically, Slafkovsky is probably a little closer to the Ritchies of the NHL than he is to the Ovechkins. However, Slafkovsky has shown over the summer a willingness to do whatever is necessary to improve his game. It’s the same drive that made him nearly break a stationary bike at the draft combine a year ago. That drive followed by his natural talents on the ice, his imposing frame and, by all accounts, his increase in speed and decision-making this offseason has me cautiously optimistic that he will have a stronger showing at the NHL level this coming season.
Assuming he can stay healthy, he will have a roster spot to lose – likely between the 3rd and 4th line to start. But I have a feeling that one of his secret goals this year is to solidify himself as a top-six player for the Canadiens. With that, I feel that he is within reach of 30-35 points and 15 goals for the year. If he can continue to see tangible improvements in his play, decision making, and confidence, I would not be surprised to see him rise to the 2nd line for the remainder of the year – perhaps sometime after Christmas. But he has stiff competition with the likes of Alex Newhook, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, and Mike Hoffman all in the mix.
Norm Szcyrek: I will not be surprised if Slafkovsky starts in the AHL this fall, but I don’t believe that will be a sign that he should be labelled a bust. It just means he’s likely not ready for a full-time role, particularly in a top-six spot with the Habs for the 2023-24 season. He needs to work on a few things. I noticed he played with his head down much too often for an NHL player. That is one of the reasons he got hit so hard so often because opponents took notice. We’ve probably all seen the social media posts with him wearing special goggles while stick handling on the ice; that is one of the modern tools designed to help hockey players improve upon that weakness.
Another important thing Slafkovsky needs to improve upon is his weight. He showed up to camp heavier than when he was drafted, and it was the same weight as Arber Xhekaj, a defenceman three years older and more physically developed. To me, that shows that he focused strictly on basic weight training without a purpose. Before he was drafted, Juraj was not known as a speedy player, and that extra weight slowed him down on the ice. It also made his on-ice reactions slower, which means he could not anticipate the play as well as he did when he excelled in the Olympics and the Worlds the year before. If he utilizes plyometrics and other focused training methods, then he will improve in the area of quickness which will also help his hockey sense.
If Slafkovsky does not show some level of dominance in training camp and at least the first two exhibition games, then to me that is a sign he will need to spend time in the minors to improve parts of his game that need it. From his draft class, there were only four other players that played a total of fourteen games, compared to Juraj’s thirty-nine games. One of those players was Owen Beck, who as we all know got into one game as an emergency call-up. That’s a sign it was not a strong draft year, and other teams allowed their drafted players from 2022 to spend time developing outside the NHL instead of rushing them. Another way to examine this is, the Habs GM was so used to pushing his clients to start in the NHL as soon as possible when he was an agent, that he did not seriously consider the development time needed before players should be launched into the pros.