Juraj Slafkovsky looks like a far more dangerous player over his last few games, and his confidence continues to grow thanks to his time on the power play.
He may not be playing a perfect game, but the former 1st overall pick is slowly creating himself an identity on the ice as he continues to get acclimated to the NHL game.
At even strength, he’s become much less timid without the puck; executing strong checks along the boards and using his body to gain puck possession. He’s gotten better and handling the physical play at the NHL level, save for some lapses in concentration like last night in Minnesota, but what’s important is he’s begun to use his size to his advantage more often than not.
The Canadiens have rewarded his efforts and growth with some powerplay time, and over the last two games, Slafkovsky has been able to show more of his skill and abilities that made him a 1st overall pick in July.
Playing on the second wave of the Montreal Canadiens< power play, Slafkovsky was placed in his familiar spot on the right circle; where he was lethal for Team Slovakia on the international scene.
By playing in the middle of the formation, he had more opportunity to get touches on the puck and get involved in the play; something he isn’t necessarily able to do at will at even strength.
It’s also giving him more space to unload his cannon of a shot, which he put on full display on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. Slafkovsky has been a shooter at almost every level he’s played at, but has found himself being more of a playmaker since the start of his NHL career.
By being given more space to take shots like the one below, he’ll slowly get back into the habit of being more selfish with the puck and getting back to his goal-scoring ways.
This Juraj Slafkovsky goal is the first Habs PP goal on the road since April 13, 2022. pic.twitter.com/RY6IfvZrTn
— /r/Habs (@HabsOnReddit) October 30, 2022
Another aspect of his game that has come alive since getting some much-needed time on the power play has been his puck-moving ability.
Albeit on bigger ice, Slafkovsky was always a very strong puck carrier in his career, and playing on smaller ice requires a timing adjustment to ensure efficacy.
With more ice and a better selection of teammates, Slafkovsky is able to carry the puck up the ice without immediately being double-teamed; giving him the time and space needed to use his speed and size to bulldoze a path into the offensive zone.
There were glimpses of it during preseason, like the sequence below, where the youngster has shown an ability to be outright dominant when the puck is on his stick in open ice.
Juraj Slafkovsky drives the net and Jonathan Drouin finishes the play off for a power play goal! pic.twitter.com/sMAyyqe42W
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 4, 2022
He’s begun to do more of this with every power play opportunity he’s gotten, including last night against the Minnesota Wild, where he commanded the puck and looked to be in control of the Canadiens’ second power play wave.
In the sequence below, Slafkovsky combines his speed and long reach to allow him to enter the zone. What he does differently here is he dives headfirst into contact with a Wild player, knowing he’ll win the battle for position.
Here's the shift in question. (Not the 1993 version) pic.twitter.com/NLmGGYZyXO
— Marco D'Amico (@mndamico) November 2, 2022
The combination of Slafkovsky’s shooting, puck carrying and size is slowly developing, as is his identity as an NHL power forward. Whether general manager Kent Hughes and head coach Martin St. Louis decide to send him to the Laval Rocket for some development or if he stays with Montreal a little longer, continued time on the power play is what is needed for the youngster to continue to refine his game and establish his identity.