Montreal Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky has been learning the ropes of the NHL on the fourth line this season, but could be seeing his ice time increase this week.
The 18-year-old has been looking good as of late, playing on a fourth line with an ever-changing cast of linemates.
He’s managed to notch three goals and an assist so far through 13 games, while slowly being eased into regular power play time.
He hasn’t been able to find much chemistry playing with energy players, but head coach Martin St-Louis has been hesitant about giving him more time.
It made for an uncomfortable situation where Slafkovsky was only really able to show some flash on the power play, and has looked rather strong in his time there.
With the lingering injury to Joel Armia and Mike Hoffman having a lower-body injury re-evaluated on Monday, this may be the opening Slafkovsky needs to play further up the lineup.
With Hoffman kept out of the game in the third period of the Canadiens’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers, it doesn’t bode well for the veteran to play in Buffalo on Tuesday.
It’s unlikely that the Montreal Canadiens will be promoting Micheal Pezzeta up the lineup, and the quick-fix of placing Jake Evans on the wing to plug Hoffman’s loss is also unlikely to hold over a full game, as the Canadiens would be playing two centres (Kirby Dach and Jake Evans) on the wings.
Jump Into The Top-Six
Slafkovsky was at practice on Monday taking reps in Mike Hoffman’s spot, next to Christian Dvorak and Brendan Gallagher.
Given how both veterans have played as of late, this could be an ideal situation for the 18-year-old, as he will be properly surrounded by players who are both trending in the right direction offensively.
Dvorak, the club’s best defensive forward and their ace in the faceoff circle, will be able to cover for the young Slafkovsky with his strong, 200-foot game. Having a mature and simple centreman helps make things more consistent for a young winger and will give Slafkovsky the confidence to try things on the ice without it necessarily resulting in a goal against.
Meanwhile, playing next to Brendan Gallagher is like taking sixteen energy drinks in a row and slipping on your skates: he is energy personified. The attention that Gallagher gets, along with the chaos he causes in the blue paint will open up a lot of ice for the young Slovak to capitalize on, giving him more time to get his deadly shot off.
Putting this line together likely changes St-Louis’ strategy a tad, as the top defensive missions will likely shift to Sean Monahan and his veteran trio, giving this newly formed line less pressure and some room to gel.
It’s a fantastic opportunity for the young man; one he’s patiently awaited.
Now comes the hard part.