Juraj Slafkovsky on the first trio: a far cry from the days when Laval was a discussed option → https://t.co/CRzyMQxNtc
– DansLesCoulisses (@DLCoulisses) December 4, 2023
When Juraj Slafkovsky was selected first overall in the 2022 draft, many questioned the Montreal organization’s choice.
It’s worth remembering, after all, that this was the new management’s first draft and, at the time, not much was known about Kent Hughes or Jeff Gorton.
It’s also worth mentioning that the pick was frowned upon by many because we didn’t know much about Slaf either. We knew he was in good physical shape and had seen him shine at the 2022 Olympic Games, when he scored seven goals in as many games to help Slovakia win the bronze medal…
A year and a half later, Slafkovsky now has 75 games of NHL experience. We can all agree that he’s had a tougher time of it since the start of his career in Montreal, and that’s put a question mark in the minds of some, if not many, fans/experts around town.
It’s normal, really. Because that’s the mentality we have in Montreal. No one threw in the towel with Slaf, but at a certain point, negative comments were flying everywhere.
How many times did we talk about sending him to Laval, after all? But it was also because he didn’t look like an NHL-calibre guy.
Right now, there’s nobody talking about that idea because it doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t anymore, at least.
Since he’s been installed on the wing of the team’s first trio, alongside Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, things have been going well for the young man.
He’s playing a lot more because Martin St-Louis trusts him more, and that only goes to show how much he’s improved in recent months. He was averaging 14 minutes per game in October and 18 in December…
There’s quite a difference.
But what’s even more exciting about Slaf is how much potential he has to be the Habs’ best forward in the near future. I’m not afraid to say it: in the last few games, I thought he was the one who stood out the most on the ice…
Slaf understands that he can and must use his body to succeed, and that’s the ultimate key to his development, because he already has the offensive skills and hockey IQ so sought-after in young players his age.
The young man has what it takes to carry the club on his shoulders in the coming years, and we’re seeing it right now. He’s involved in every facet of the game, he finds his teammates easily on the ice and you can see how the game has slowed down.
But above all, he’s playing with unshakeable confidence and it shows:
FANTASTIC shootout goal by Juraj Slafkovsky pic.twitter.com/oMArNyE3W8
– Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) September 23, 2023
It’s true that he took a little time to get going, but he’s not the only first choice to have experienced this situation. Joe Thornton, the first overall pick in the 1997 draft, collected a paltry seven points in 55 games during his rookie season… And that didn’t stop him from enjoying a brilliant NHL career.
It’s the same thing if you take it to the extreme and look at the recent example of Jack Hughes. The American became excellent in his third NHL season (like Thornton) and is now the most important player in the New Jersey Devils’ line-up.
Sometimes it takes time, and that’s the case with Slafkovsky. Let’s not forget that he had to live with a completely different reality last year, too.
A new league, a new team, a new style of play, a new country… Mix all that with the pressure of the Montreal market and the pressure to perform and it makes for a nasty headache.
With what he’s shown over the last few games, all that seems to be behind him. He’s got a clear head, he knows he’s capable of giving it his all, and it shows in his play on the ice.
And if he keeps up this momentum, I think he’ll be on his way to becoming the Canadiens’ best forward in 2024.
He may not score a million points à la Connor McDavid (he’s on track for a 36-point season), but he’s going to be just as important in Martin St-Louis’ line-up. Especially with his size.
There’s only one thing in particular I want from Slafkovsky, by the way.
Slafkovsky generates an average of 1.38 shots per game in the opposing net… And that statistic needs to skyrocket in my eyes, because he’s got it.