Reliving Juraj Slafkovskys Epic International Run In 2022

Juraj Slafkovsky used heroic performances in International Tournaments to climb the 2022 Draft Rankings and get selected first overall by the Montreal Canadiens.
Olympic medalist Juraj Slafkovsky
Olympic medalist Juraj Slafkovsky / Harry How/GettyImages

What would the Montreal Canadiens look like if Juraj Slafkovsky hadn't become a star with the Slovakia National Team before the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Slafkovsky wasn't on anyone's radar to be the first overall pick when the 2021-22 season began. He was allowed to play with the men's national team at the 2022 Olympics and Men's World Hockey Championships, setting him up to become a top prospect.

Let's look at Bob McKenzie as an example of Slafkovsky's rise to the No.1 Overall Draft Pick. In his first 2022 NHL Draft ranking, Bob named Shane Wright the clear-cut number one. No.2 and 3 were Ivan Miroshnichenko and Brad Lambert. Bob ranked Slafkovsky at No.4, but he said everyone from 3 to 8 was interchangeable and not likely to challenge Wright for the No.1 spot.

Bob released his mid-season rankings before the Olympics, keeping Wright in the first overall spot. Logan Cooley had moved to No.2, followed by Joakim Kemell and Matt Savoie. Slafkovsky had fallen to No.5. No one had challenged Wright as the No.1 overall pick up to this point.

Bob came out with his final ranking at the end of June, and Wright had finally been dethroned. Slafkovsky was the new No.1 in the final rankings, but many still expected Wright to be selected. As we know, the Canadiens went through with it, taking Slafkovsky first overall. As of this writing, Slafkovsky and Cooley are the only players I've mentioned getting full-time shifts in the NHL.

So, what happened from the time of the mid-season to the final rankings? In the Men's World Championship lead-up, let's examine Juraj Slafkovsky's legendary run for Team Slovakia in the Winter and Spring of 2022.

2022 Winter Olympics

Slovakia won their first Olympic gold medal in 2022, claiming a bronze medal after defeating Sweden in the third-place game. Juraj Slafkovsky led the team and tournament in goal scoring, with seven in seven games. The performance was especially significant since he had just one goal in his first 20 games in the Liiga with TPS. For his efforts, Slafkovsky won the Most Valuable Player, an impressive feat for a 17-year-old.

Slafkovsky stood out at the tournament with his impressive blend of size and speed. There were some doubters since the Olympics featured the "best of the rest," with NHLers still not playing. However, a 17-year-old dominating any men's international tournament is intriguing. Slafkovsky's ceiling interested scouts, as he still had plenty of time to get stronger and grow into his frame.

Slafkovsky was already getting talked about as a player who could climb the prospect rankings. Pundits wanted to see him excel even more if he played in the World Hockey Championship. That tournament would be a more substantial test, featuring NHLers eliminated from the playoffs. 

2022 Men's World Hockey Championship

It would have been easy for Slafkovsky to not meet expectations at the World Hockey Championship. The newly-turned 18-year-old already had an Olympic Bronze Medal and MVP under his belt and was a future top-five pick. Regardless of the outcome of the tournament, Slafkovsky's potential shown at the Olympics would have been enough to help his draft stock.

Slafkovsky didn't feel the pressure, leading Slovakia again with three goals and six assists. Slovakia didn't have the same team success, bowing out early in the quarterfinals after a 4-2 loss to Finland. However, Slafkovsky finished just outside the top ten in scoring, playing two fewer games than most players ahead of him. Regardless of the result, finishing just behind players like David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Drake Batherson, and Pierre-Luc Dubois in points put Slafkovsky in rarified air.

Slafkovsky now has an opportunity to continue his heroic run in Slovakia, leading the team in the 2024 World Hockey Championship. Circle your calendars for May 13th, when Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield face off when Slovakia takes on the United States. We will wait for the medal round for a possible matchup between Slafkovsky and Kaiden Guhle with Canada.