The Montreal Canadiens cut 23 players from training camp yesterday, but they will have many more difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks.
The Habs still have five more preseason games to play and will have to reduce their roster from 44 to 23. Their final decisions will have to be made before they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 12th at the Bell Centre.
Some of those decisions are going to be very difficult. Even in a rebuilding season, it is important the Habs make the right choices for who plays at the NHL level, and who gets sent down to Junior or the minor leagues to begin the 2022-23 calendar.
Canadiens Decision On Juraj Slafkovksy Will Be Difficult
The one player who will get the most attention when final cuts are made is Juraj Slafkovksy. The big, Slovakian left winger was the first overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, and most players taken first overall jump straight to the NHL.
Slafkovsky got a lot of attention for his play at the Olympics and World Championships last year. He put up dominating performances against professionals at both of those events, which led many fans to believe he was probably NHL ready.
However, Slafkovsky has looked okay, but not phenomenal, so far in training camp. He showed off a lot of skill and speed in rookie camp and the rookie tournament games. So far, he hasn’t stood out as much in preseason action.
The Canadiens have a lot of veteran wingers under contract heading into this season, so there isn’t a guaranteed roster spot for Slafkovsky. As the first overall pick, he will get a few more opportunities to prove himself in exhibition games, but if he doesn’t stand out, he could be headed for the AHL to begin the season.
Since he was drafted out of a pro league in Europe, Slafkovksy is eligible to play in the AHL at 18 years old. He has plenty of pro experience in Slovakia, and Finland last year, but none in North America.
As a big winger, who is just 18 and hasn’t played, or lived, in this part of the world in his life, it might take a little time for Slafkovsky to adjust to the North American game.
And so what if it does, and he navigates that learning curve at the AHL level? The Canadiens did not pick him first overall because they thought he would dominate the NHL in 2022-23. They did not pick him because they thought he would be the best player from the draft in the 2022-23 season.
What the Canadiens are worried about, is how good will Slafkovsky be in three, four, five, even ten years from now. If they want to bring out the best in the 6’3” and 238 pound player in the future, they have to put him in a place to succeed this season.
The Canadiens rushed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the NHL level, and shouldn’t do the same with Slafkovsky if he isn’t ready. It will be a difficult decision, but the best spot for Slafkovksy to start the season is probably with the Laval Rocket.
Owen Power was drafted first overall in 2021 and went back to Michigan to dominate one final year of college hockey. Letting Slafkovksy take it slow at the pro level is likely the best thing for the long term, and that’s why he should start the season with the Laval Rocket.
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