Juraj Slafkovsky's Sophomore Season A Perfect Example Of Developmental Intricacies

Montreal Canadiens v Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens v Florida Panthers / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

Juraj Slafkovsky has been one of the Montreal Canadiens best forwards this season, but he has also made mistakes and shown his age.

That is far beyond any reason to be concerned since he is 19 years old, and mistakes are all part of the process. Over his last 20 games, he has undergone a full 180 and looked like a different player. Then he had a few games where he was held pointless, took some poor penalties and even made some ill-advised passes.

He will have more blunders, but his growth wouldn't have occurred at this rate, if not for Martin St. Louis's patience. When he struggled and his confidence wasn't exactly blossoming, St. Louis advocated for Slafkovsky to stay up with the big club. Any doubt about the Canadiens' decision to draft Slafkovsky is all outside noise, and if you needed any proof beyond St. Louis's trust in the player, you probably should watch him play.

On Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, Slafkovsky scored a goal. His 13th of the season; a feat that through the first quarter-plus of the season, seemed so far-fetched. The shot came off so fast that Anthony Stolarz had no chance to react to it, then he retrieved the puck from his net.

It also appears that Slafkovsky has realized that he is much bigger than many of his opponents, it's rare to see him caught off guard this season. He has played with more of an edge and his strength has been on full display on many occasions. On Tuesday night against the Arizona Coyotes, Slafkovsky threw a reverse hit that must have made Alex Kovalev proud, sending Liam O'Brien tumbling to the ice.

The early rewards from the Canadiens patient approach with Slafkovsky are already starting to show. The fact that he is learning the ropes alongside Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, two players who have gone through it already, has been immense for the hulking Slovakian. He has led by example, following captain Suzuki; playing a strong 200-foot game.

Development is very intricate, not linear and many first-overall picks don't develop into first-line talents right away. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Connor Bedard (to some extent) have stepped on NHL ice and immediately made an impact. But these players are considered generational talents.

The fact that Slafkovsky has just barely scratched the floor for what he will become, all while playing a responsible two-way game, is a pretty good indicator of his potential. Development is not linear, players like Shane Wright and Logan Cooley are playing at different levels, but writing off Wright because he is in the AHL makes very little sense. Labelling Slafkovsky a bust after his rookie season is nonsense, especially considering that many 2022 first-round selections are yet to play an NHL game.

Slafkovsky is actually statistically better production wise than Jack Hughes through their first 96 games. That's not to say that he will ever reach the level that Hughes has, but simply speaks to the fact that some of the NHL's elite talents needed a little time before hitting their stride. Once Hughes found his footing, it was all up from there, and his work ethic has helped him thrive.

It's truly amazing to think that Slafkovsky could reach the 20 goal mark, when you consider that he didn't look like he would reach the 10 goal plateau.