Juraj Slafkovsky's Learning How To Use His Physical Tools

Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens
Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Montreal Canadiens knew exactly what they were getting when they selected Juraj Slafkovsky with the first overall pick.

A very raw, but highly talented winger, whose potential for growth was astronomical. That hasn't changed, but what has changed is his confidence in his skill game. Furthermore, his knowledge of how to use his body to devastate opponents, but to also separate the opponent from the puck has been a huge step in the right direction for the 20-year-old.

He will never be as physically imposing as Arber Xhekaj, but if you look at their physical traits, they are eerily similar. Slafkovsky isn't as mean as Xhekaj, who loves to punish opponents along the board, in front of the net and in open ice. Slafkovsky does it on the forecheck and if the opportunity presents itself elsewhere, but both players are 6 foot 4 and nearly 230-240 pounds.

During a sequence against the Panthers, the pair nearly destroyed the Panthers player just trying to dump the puck for a line change,

Slafkovsky is still learning how to use his physical tools for good while being a great two-way presence. It's a tightrope to balance, but his growth in year two is proof that with patience, he will become a very important player for the Canadiens. He already overpowers big, strong opponents and he surprises them with his blend of strength and quick decision-making.

There is no telling how good he will be in another two to three years, but I envision that he isn't going to be very fun to play against. He knows that he isn't an easy player to handle in all one-on-one situations and his ability to hold players on one shoulder and drive the net with the other is mightily impressive. It's also promising to see him doing it against some of the other team's best players.

A great example of that is during a sequence in the Carolina Hurricanes zone on Saturday night. Slafkovsky and Sebastian Aho raced into the Hurricanes zone for a loose puck. Slafkovsky was able to fend off Aho, who is a brilliant player in his own right, before pivoting away with the puck and creating an offensive opportunity.

It would have been impressive against anybody, it's the National Hockey League, and every player is there for a reason. But Aho is one of the league's premiere centres and Slafkovsky shook him off like he was a beer league player. That isn't an easy thing to do, but he made it look easy and wasn't phased by it, shifting his attention to the next opportunity to make a play.

The kid has been impressive and he has faced every challenge head on, which has been a large part of why his success feels so well-deserved. At times early in the year, he appeared to be frustrated. But Martin St. Louis and the Canadiens staff knew exactly what they were doing with Slafkovsky's development.

It was only a matter of time and since he turned a corner, the points have begun piling up, but shades of the dominant power forward he wil become have been of full display multiple times each game.