Montreal Canadiens: Juraj Slafkovsky Could Benefit From AHL Stint

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 30: Juraj Slafkovsky #20 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck against Kaedan Korczak #6 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on October 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 30: Juraj Slafkovsky #20 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck against Kaedan Korczak #6 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on October 30, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /
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The is no secret in Montreal, or at least, through Montreal Canadiens media, it is widely believed that Juraj Slafkovsky should be demoted to the AHL.

The argument is awfully hard to disagree with, and I believe that it would be best for his confidence. Playing against the best competition in the NHL gives him experience, but right now he is moving around like a player with little confidence in his game. While sending Slafkovsky down to the Laval Rocket is a demotion, I don’t think he should consider it as a punishment, but an opportunity to sharpen his tools against other top prospects in the NHL’s development league.

I’ll start this off by saying that no two players are the same, not even the Sedin Twins. But there are some similarities between Mikko Rantanen and Slafkovsky. Both players are bigger players, and Rantanen benefitted from a stint in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. Rantanen’s ascension to the top of the Avalanche lineup started in San Antonio, and the patient approach has proven to be best.

TPS Turku is a club in the Finnish Liiga, and the reason why that is important is because that is where Rantanen played before being drafted by the Avalanche. Slafkovsky also played his draft year in Finland with the same club. Now the similarities end there, but Slafkovsky described Rantanen as his favourite player to watch.

Certainly bestowing those expectations upon Slafkovksy would be unfair, but sending him to the AHL wouldn’t be. If you have a look at Rantanen’s career path, after he was drafted he reported to the American Hockey League for the 2015-16 campaign. This move allowed Rantanen the time to adapt to North American ice and find his confidence against other players who were trying to do the same thing and develop into a strong NHL talent.

Slafkovsky is an inch shorter than Rantanen, and he weighs 20-plus pounds heavier. So he dealt with the large frame but had to learn how to use it as an advantage against bigger and stronger competition. He was able to do that, and the following season he found his way onto the NHL roster, after a 52-game season with the Rampage, Rantanen scored 60 points.

He didn’t explode during his first NHL season, but he was able to handle the battles and speed. The Nouisianen, Finland, native scored 38 points (20 goals & 18 assists) through his first 75 NHL games. It wasn’t brilliant production, but the tools were all coming together, Rantanen just needed the Avalanche’s confidence, and patience, and the organization would benefit from it.

In year two, however, Rantanen had confidence from his 75-game rookie season, and it was apparent that when he had the puck, staying closeby was a wise decision for his linemates. Rantanen exploded in his sophomore season with the Avalanche scoring 84 points in 81 games. He was one goal short of 30 and posted 55 assists, the shot is a threat, but the playmaking is on another level. I’m not saying that Slafkovsky will be on Rantanen’s level, he is an elite playmaker, but he has a fighting chance to become a very good big-bodied winger, and he is more likely to develop that offensive side if he goes down to Laval.

Slafkovsky showed spurts of brilliance during Olympic play, where he started at the bottom of the lineup as a 17-year-old. But he worked his way up, and the characteristics that he possessed were put on full display. He is a huge-bodied winger, with quick skating for his size and he likes to use his size to protect the puck, and he has a heavy, accurate shot, that he will use more with increased confidence. Slafkovsky may never be an elite playmaker at the NHL level, but he has good vision and makes high-percentage passes.

Giving Slafkovsky the time to develop is very important, and at this point, he should be given some time with Logan Mailloux and Joshua Roy down in Laval. It will allow him to regain his confidence and find his offensive game while learning to play more physically. The development team has paid dividends early, and they will make the right decision for Slafkovsky.

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