The Montreal Canadiens drafted two Slovak forwards in Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar, and both want to cross the pond and play in North America next year.
Both players took to the podium to express their desire to hit the ground running with their new team and immerse themselves in what will soon be their home culture. They want to get used to the smaller ice, the physicality and the speed of the North American game as quickly as possible, but want to see their options. Let’s review some of the options that Slafkosky and Mesar have below.
Slafkovsky With the Montreal Canadiens This Fall?
Juraj Slafkovsky, the Montreal Canadiens’ 1st overall selection, was adamant that he’d like to come to North America next season and play in Montreal. General manager Kent Hughes was also adamant about having Slafkovsky close by, be it in Montreal or in the AHL with the Laval Rocket.
"We'd like him in North America next year." -Kent Hughes on Slafkovsky
Open to playing Slafkovsky in Laval or Montreal.
Wasn't ready to say the same thing for Mesar.
— Marco D'Amico (@mndamico) July 8, 2022
Despite having another year on his contract with TPS in the Finnish Liiga, Slafkovsky is eligible to play in the AHL right away, due to being a 1st round pick drafted out of Europe. The transfer agreement between the NHL and Liiga allows for 1st round picks drafted out of the top Finnish league to be able to jump to the pro level in North America despite being under contract. The rule offers the Montreal Canadiens a unique opportunity to sign Slafkovsky to his entry-level contract and then assign him to either Montreal or Laval without being penalized.
Slafkovsky’s clan seems unlikely to push for a standard Euro-Out clause, which would allow the player to return to Europe, rather than be assigned to the AHL. Slafkosvky appears to firmly believe that he needs to play on this side of the Atlantic, and repeated many times how he needed to get used to this new style of play.
What About Filip Mesar?
Fresh off his selection at 26th overall by the Montreal Canadiens, Filip Mesar was equally as excited to get the ball rolling on his career in North America. Mesar was adamant that he would like to take the next step and move on from the Slovak Extraliga.
“I don’t want to go back to Poprad,” said Mesar on where he’d like to play next year. ” I would love to come to North America or look at other leagues like SHL.”
The Swedish Hockey League is perhaps the best league for a youngster like Mesar to develop in at this time if he were to remain in Europe. A few clubs would be interested in adding a 1st round pick to their ranks, but he has a few options in North America as well. First off, like Slafkovsky, Mesar is a 1st round pick, which means the Montreal Canadiens could sign him to his entry-level contract right away and assign him to the AHL, should they feel the need. Mesar doesn’t have a valid contract for the 2022-2023 season at this time and has the liberty of picking his spots.
A more interesting avenue could be Canadian Major Junior, as the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL currently own his rights. Mesar would be able to sign a contract with the Montreal Canadiens and be loaned to the Kitchener Rangers, or whichever OHL team owns his rights come the fall. Because Mesar was drafted out of Europe, he wouldn’t have to play in the OHL until the age of 20. If the Canadiens feel he only needs one season of junior hockey to acclimate to the North American style, he could jump to the AHL in 2023-2024 at age 19 without any limitations.
It will be very interesting to see where the Montreal Canadiens decide to play the two young Slovaks next season, but both remain adamant that they want to pursue their careers in North America as soon as possible.