Montreal Canadiens Can’t Afford The Risk Associated With Taking Juraj Slafkovsky

Feb 19, 2022; Beijing, China; Team Slovakia forward Juraj Slafkovsky Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2022; Beijing, China; Team Slovakia forward Juraj Slafkovsky Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports /

The Montreal Canadiens were fortunate to win the NHL Draft Lottery last month. This meant they would pick first overall at the 2022 NHL Draft.

This meant their awful 2021-22 season would at least have the best possible silver lining. You don’t want to have the worst team in the league, but if you do you at least want to add the best player at the NHL Draft.

That player was unanimously supposed to be Shane Wright. Ever since he was granted exceptional status to enter the OHL, he flew to the top of everyone’s 2022 NHL Draft board. That is where he stayed, until recently.

Wright had a strong season for the Kingston Frontenacs, scoring 94 points in 63 games. It was just less than everyone expected. Two years ago, he scored 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games. He then sat out the entire 2020-21 season because the OHL did not operate during Covid shutdowns.

This season, Wright’s points per game was way up compares to his 15 year old season but he scored less goals. In short, he was great but more was expected from him.

That is why, late in the season, we started to hear Juraj Slafkovsky’s name at the top of NHL Draft rankings. He was great at the Olympics and also at the Men’s World Championships and bumped Wright from the #1 ranking on many lists.

That includes Bob McKenzie who surveys ten scouts that work for NHL teams and combines their rankings to come up with a consensus. He had Slafkovsky at the top of five, Wright at first on four of them and Logan Cooley at the top of one.

However, the Canadiens can not afford to risk taking anyone other than Shane Wright.

Wright has been ranked first all season and had a great year. Fans are expecting him to be taken first overall, and it would shock the Bell Centre if anyone else is selected first overall. It wouldn’t be the warmest welcome to the NHL and the Canadiens organization to have fans collectively gasp when Slafkovsky’s name is announced.

Plus, Wright has the much longer track record of success and is the safer long term pick anyway. While Slafkovsky is bigger and stronger, Wright plays a smarter, two-way game and has shown for years he has high offensive upside.

Wright scored over a point per game in the OHL when he was technically not old enough to be in the league. He didn’t play the next season, but he showed up at the World Under-18s in the spring and was the best player there and he was a year younger than most.

He had nine goals and 14 points in just five games at that tournament, finishing second in goals and points to Matvei Michkov who played two more games.

This season, while he maybe didn’t score 50 goals like many expected, he still had just under 1.5 points per game while being a key defensive centre and penalty killer on a strong OHL team.

Meanwhile, Slafkovsky scored five goals and ten points in 31 Liiga games. He was great at the Olympics, scoring seven goals and seven points in seven games. He was also great in the World Championships scoring three goals and nine points in eight games.

The Slovakian left winger also scored 18 points in 11 Junior games in Finland. But his production in Liiga was lacking. In his draft year, Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored 29 points in 57 Liiga games which is fine production for a draft eligible player.

Kotkaniemi had a great World Under-18 in the spring of his draft year, scoring three goals and nine points in seven games. The Habs picked him third overall based on okay production in Liiga and a strong international tournament.

Can they afford to do the same thing with Slafkovsky? His track record that puts him on par with Shane Wright is really just seven Olympic games where NHL players didn’t play and a World Championships that a lot of top players avoided as well due to Covid concerns.

The track record of success is just too short with Slafkovsky. He has not been Shane Wright’s equal over the past three seasons, aside from questionable competition at the Olympics and World Championships.

The Canadiens can’t afford to take the risk that Slafkovsky’s seven Olympic games are a better representation of his future than all of his league play. Even after a strong Olympics, he scored seven points in 18 Liiga playoff games. That’s okay, but it doesn’t put him ahead of Shane Wright.

The Habs have to look at the total picture over the past few years and make the right decision about who is going to be the best player for the next decade. The track record of each player shows that is far more likely to be Shane Wright and that is who the Canadiens need to pick first overall.

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