Montreal Canadiens: Looking ahead to Juraj Slafkovsky’s sophomore season

Nov 19, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens left wing Juraj Slafkovsky. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens left wing Juraj Slafkovsky. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports /

Habs General Manager Kent Hughes took to the stage almost a year ago today, with a sure grin. The consensus was that centre Shane Wright from the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs would be selected first overall. But, the draft faithful were in for a shock, Hughes had a spade up his sleeve. The Canadiens selected 17-year-old Olympic MVP and Slovakian manchild Juraj Slafkovsky.

Chatter began immediately, and many questioned if this was the right pick. Will he make the team out of camp? He’s a first-overall pick; he should make an immediate impact, right? It didn’t take long to have the various questions answered. Slafkovsky stood out at training camp, earning himself a spot on the opening night roster.

It could be argued, and indeed has been ever since, that he should have spent the 2022-23 season in Laval to adjust to North American ice. In any event, however, that didn’t happen, and the hulking Slovakian stayed up with the big club, he scored his first NHL goal, and unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury.

Juraj Slafkovsky
ELMONT, NEW YORK – JANUARY 14: Juraj Slafkovsky #20 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images ) /

He proved what everybody already knew, physically, he was ready, but the game speed looked too quick for him. I was divided by the argument of Laval vs. Montreal, but I would be a fool to say he didn’t look a step or two behind. Sure, he did shine when he played on a line with Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson, but he did seem to struggle with the pace. I sincerely believe consistent ice time in a lesser role to develop would be a huge benefit.

Having a veteran, a two-way player like Monahan, who can slow down the game and cover for the defensive inefficiencies that Anderson and Slafkovsky might pose, should prove important. Anderson has the bite and power skating package that could be something for Slafkovsky to learn and emulate. Monahan exhibits the play-making and hockey knowledge to rub off on Slafkovsky.

Slafkovsky in the NHL?

So if Slafkovsky shows up to training camp a bit lighter and with all the knowledge from his first season, he could be a staple in the team’s top nine. Ideally, starting on the third line with the two previously mentioned veterans could be the perfect way to insulate and integrate the 18-year-old into a full-time role. If given every opportunity to thrive, Slafkovsky will provide a new element to the Canadiens’ offence. A power game, with the playmaking acumen and bomb of shot to eventually slot in alongside Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, or whichever player the team selects in the upcoming draft with thefifth-overall selection.

Aside from the speed of the game looking a bit too quick for Slafkovsky to process, his skating was seen as something that needed improvement. Arriving at camp at 215 pounds, instead of the 238 pounds he was last season, could provide a lighter, more powerful stride. In my belief, Slafkovsky will live up to the draft day hype and provide the Canadiens with the player they envisioned on draft day. It will occur sooner rather than later, as Slafkovsky has already shown a penchant for excelling his level of play everywhere he has played.

A season with Laval

While the Laval Rocket and their bustling pool of prospects set to fill the roster is a very real option, I don’t think Slafkovsky will play down in the American League. With that said, he certainly could have a worse supporting cast to play alongside. With Jesse Ylonen, Emil Heineman, and Rafael Harvey Pinard focused on taking that next step, Slafkovsky might consider taking the steps they did before him to make it to the big club. Also to consider, the Rocket will likely have the services of QMJHL prospects Joshua Roy and Riley Kidney, who could be his potential linemates in Laval.
So, while playing a league down might seem like a demotion, it could be flipped the other way and shown as an opportunity to thrive with the young prospects, and even stand out from them in earning the first call-up to the Canadiens.

Whatever happens from here on out, be it at the draft, free agency, or even via a trade, wherever Slafkovsky starts out his sophomore campaign, intrigue and fan interest shall follow.

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