Fresh off scoring the second goal of his NHL career, rookie Juraj Slafkovsky is earning significant praise from Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St-Louis.
And while it’s certainly encouraging that Slafkovsky scored on his first legitimate power play shift, it’s his overall engagement that has impressed St-Louis the most.
“There’s been a significant evolution in his game, especially when it comes to being engaged in any play,” he said. “Let’s keep in mind he’s just 18 years old and has a lot left to learn. To be useful in the NHL it’s all about being fast, having good hands, and having a great shot.
“So we’re trying to teach the game within our concepts. It’s normal he didn’t enjoy a fantastic start to the season. But the progression has been excellent since then.”
Slaf avait hâte de rejouer au hockey!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 30, 2022
The key to his progress according to St-Louis is Slafkovsky’s ability to absorb and process information at an elite level.
“He has a great attitude,” said St-Louis. “Even as the first-overall pick, he’s not entitled. He wants to earn everything. Guys like that usually have great careers. If you want to learn at that age, you have to be a sponge, and you can tell Slafkovsky absorbs all the information sent his way.”
To give you an idea of Slafkovsky’s solid progression, he’s currently among the top-5 Canadiens forwards in terms of shot control, a relatively surprising result given he’s the youngest player in the league.
Underlying numbers aside, it was Slafkovsky’s stress-free style of play that left the greatest impression on the Canadiens’ head coach.
“He was physical,” said St-Louis. “He was winning battles. He was separating himself from opponents with the puck. And when he lost the puck, he got it back almost every time, by being engaged, tenacious and physical. He wasn’t thinking too much, he was just playing.”
Simply put, Slafkovsky isn’t just having fun out there, his confidence is growing exponentially, which is partly what led to St-Louis using the first-overall pick on the power play against the Blues.
His goal with the man advantage wasn’t enough to convince the head coach to give Slafkovsky a permanent power play role, but it did provide ample evidence that the young Slovak can make an impact.
“It’s definitely a possibility that Slafkovsky will play on the power play more often,” said St-Louis. “We’ll manage it while keeping an eye on his ice time, his performances, and the game plan.”