Slafkovsky begins NHL journey with Canadiens in Rookie Challenge

The era of Juraj Slafkovsky began in Montreal.

The first overall pick from the 2022 draft was a good fit for the Montreal Canadiens in the Buffalo Sabers Rookie Challenge on Thursday.

Anyone who has been reading my opinion of players for the past several months, here at Sportsnet.ca, will know that my analysis comes without bias. My goal is to provide an inside look at how potential clients are evaluated at such events at the start of a new season.

Having said that, here’s Slavkovsky’s review from Buffalo:

Linemates

Slavkowski played the winger along with fellow 2022 first-rounder Philip Messar who was named 26th in July. The other winger was Riley Kidney in the second round of the 2021 draft.

forward force frame

It’s clear from the start that Montreal sees Slafkovsky’s size and strength as an asset when assembling teammates to play with the Slovak striker. He was listed at 6″ 429 lbs for this event but rumor has it weighing up to 239 lbs.

(Relatively, the Mesar is listed at 5″ 10,167 lbs and the Kidney is 5″ 11,168 lbs)

Speed

It’s really unbelievable that someone of his size can get places so fast. He was quick to get into small areas and showed a gear with puck and no disc across the neutral area. He will have no issues with the pace of an NHL game.

First in Scene (F1)

Referring to being pushed with and without the puck, Slafkovsky was a distraction throughout the match. When Habs resorted to throwing a puck disc into the attack area, he was active in hunting down opponents. His long reach caused some transformations.

What is even more impressive is that – literally – the man dealt with the defensemen at a low point in their area. He easily kicked them out of the pucks physically, stopped the loose pucks, and went to work aggressively.

I find it difficult to put into words and use appropriate adjectives to describe his physical dominance in the trenches. It is quite impressive to watch.

200ft game/all positions

Slavkovsky did not cut corners with his efforts. He tracked all the way back in his area. If his responsibility was to provide back pressure, he took play all the way to dissuade him to eliminate scoring opportunities against him.

In the power play, he did some sneaky plays across the bodies and under the opponent’s sticks to distribute the disc. He is not one who stands still after moving the play. He goes to the middle of the ice, in front of the net, presents the screens and looks for tips and bounces. He takes the “eyes” away from the goalkeepers in the process and gives opponents everything they can handle in an effort to keep him from dissuading them.

On the penalty kick, he turned around relatively well in his area and pressed play on the ice. His only point in the game, versus Buffalo, was out of a puck race winning on the ice. He surveyed his options and found Mesar to be late. Send him a pass into the left circle for a short goal and a key assist.

Areas that will need improvement

Coming from Europe, and playing on a larger ice surface, Slafkovsky will take some time to make some adjustments to his game.

On the one hand, his 200-foot effort, which tracks all the way to his crease on a back-check, will be easier with less ice covered.

On the other hand, he’ll learn that there’s less North American ice showing and taking pucks into the middle of the ice away from the NHL rush is a risky proposition. There were, at least, three occasions when Guraj reached into the middle of the ice and exposed himself and the Goblin. Lucky for him, the likes of Scott Stevens don’t generally patrol the NHL blue streaks today.

(Full marks for Zach Berzolla’s blue Buffalo Sabers liner to pick up one of the entries I describe. He must have felt like he ran so long on a freight train)

Other small details included early exits from the defensive zone when expecting a chipboard or exit stick. He’ll feel more comfortable with his teammates at the right time and you’ll do better takeouts, but it’s never a good idea to be above play when the disc is still in your defence. Leads to goals against the NHL.

Brief thoughts

I feel like I’m being too critical when describing areas he needs to improve.

The bottom line is that he was the most physically and skillfully dominant attacker in the game. It has emerged. He was a Nazi.

The game moves fast and he, like all NHL players, is destined to make mistakes. Not a single player in the league plays 60 minutes of hockey day and night.

It’s early. This is just the beginning of his training camp journey. But it looks like the NHL is ready for me.