While the Montreal Canadiens have enjoyed a fair amount of success this season, the discussion surrounding Juraj Slafkovsky’s usage has resurfaced.
With the exception of Michael Pezzetta, no other Canadiens player has received less ice time than Slafkovsky, who has played an average of 11 minutes per game.
It’s worth noting context is important here.
Slafkovsky is the youngest player in the league, and his usage has increased since the start of the year, but he still ranks 26th overall in TOI among rookies in the NHL this season.
The Canadiens have a glut of veteran forwards in the mix who are absorbing a large portion of the ice time, which complicates Slafkovsky’s development, as head coach Martin St-Louis has to balance potential returns on trades while he’s deciding upon the ideal usage for his players.
With that in mind, we asked for input on what fans think would be the ideal role for the 18-year-old.
With well over 100 answers in under an hour, the responses were interesting, to say the least.
The variance in opinions gives us ample evidence there is no clear answer when it comes to the first-overall pick at the 2022 Draft.
Let’s take a look at some of the suggestions and evaluate their merit.
Slafkovsky – Monahan – Anderson
— Max_Habs (@Max_Habs) November 30, 2022
Placing him on the third line is a very interesting prospect, at least on the surface. And when we mention the third line, it’s understood the middle six more or less enjoys the same usage under St-Louis.
Monahan is great at driving the play, has fantastic transition numbers, and can establish the cycle in the offensive zone, which could lead to an increase in scoring chances for Slafkovsky.
He needs to shoot more often, and placing him with Monahan would definitely help in that regard.
Anderson is another issue, seeing as his underlying numbers can be quite erratic, but giving Monahan two shooting options has the potential to yield positive results.
Realistically he is probably in the right place until he earns his way up.
— David Trott (@DavidTr63386984) November 30, 2022
Keeping the status quo was a relatively popular opinion among Habs fans and one that has merit.
There’s absolutely no rush when it comes to developing Slafkovsky, and he’s had to absorb a lot of information since the Draft, perhaps too much.
The counterargument would be that Slafkovsky has started to regress on the fourth line in the last few weeks, indicating the usage on the fourth line is not conducive to steady development.
In Joel "Zero Points" Armia's spot.
— Mike Veenie (@fnveenie) November 30, 2022
Seeing as numerous veteran wingers are struggling to produce, fans are starting to get frustrated with the lack of meritocracy in the lineup.
Again, it’s tied into trade value for those veteran players, but there’s a strong argument to be made when it comes to the value of the potential return on those players compared to the value of allowing Slafkovsky to spread his wings with better linemates and more ice time.
Is an extra 2nd-round pick really worth slowing his development down?
Then again, second-round picks can become players like Owen Beck and Lane Hutson.
1st or 2nd line in Laval. He is a 4th liner in the NHL no point in having him there but the Habs love to rush teenagers.
— Monctonscout (@Monctonscout) November 30, 2022
There’s justified anxiety when it comes to developing 18-year-old forwards in Montreal, seeing as how the Jesperi Kotkanemi and Alex Galchenyuk projects eventually turned sour.
Laval is having a difficult year, and Slafkovsky would have a target on his back due to his draft position, but heavy use on the power play and a lower strength of competition could do wonders for his confidence, which seems to be waning of late.
Some have argued the Laval Rocket wouldn’t necessarily allot him an immediate uptick in usage, but if that’s the case, there’s something terribly wrong with the development system.
You find minutes for the first-overall pick.
End of story.
If not, you find a new coach.
I don’t care what line he’s on as long as he’s not playing with dumpers and grinders. He needs a playmaker that can find space. It’s getting to the point where slaf feels he needs to do something special every time he touches the puck…
— abe (@abe89478323) November 30, 2022
This is a strong, albeit vague argument when it comes to Slafkovsky’s confidence. It’s also a vague argument I have made on several occasions, therefore I endorse the tweet.
His usage is so sparse that he has a difficult time finding his rhythm. He needs better linemates and more ice time if he’s to enjoy a relatively successful rookie season.
I and whole Slovakia want to see him with mesar and dvorsky on WJC 😜
— simona hrncirikova (@shrncirikova) November 30, 2022
There’s been no word on whether the Canadiens will loan Slafkovsky to his national team, but there is very little downside involved in the option.
He would gain confidence, feel comfortable, and be able to play against similarly aged opponents, which provides the team with a good barometer regarding his progress.
If the roster makeup permits, it would be foolish to keep him in Montreal playing 10 minutes a night rather than sending him to Halifax to dominate at the World Junior Championship.
Today, I'd like to see him on the third line with Monahan and Gallagher. Gives him two guys with experience and are responsible defensively to let him run free a bit.
In the future, a second line of Slafkovsky-Beck/Dvorsky-Mesar seems pretty fun
— zk97 (@zk97__) November 30, 2022
The most common suggestion involved playing Slafkovsky with Monahan, but this was one of the few that mentioned Brendan Gallagher.
To quote 20th-century poet James Eugene Carrey, I like it a lot.
Gallagher is currently leading the Canadiens when it comes to creating individual high-danger scoring chances, and despite some bad luck when it comes to capitalizing on those chances, he’s definitely driving the play in the right direction.
His feisty approach creates chaos, and a little chaos could lead to a lot more open ice for Slafkovsky, who is still adapting to the fast-paced hockey in the NHL.
Placing the two together may be exactly what it takes to jumpstart their offensive games.