The Montreal Canadiens enjoyed one of their most exciting wins of the season on Saturday night against the St-Louis Blues.
Not only did Joel Armia score twice, but it also appeared as if Jonathan Drouin had scored his first goal of the season, though it was eventually awarded to Josh Anderson who rightfully ensured the game-winning goal would count by tapping the puck into the net when it was almost across the goal line.
But the temporary celebration of the apparent awakening among veteran forward was tied into one slightly less encouraging development: Drouin was used on the line because rookie Juraj Slafkovsky was removed from the top 9.
It’s fair to say it was a smart decision from Martin St-Louis seeing as the change led to a crucial goal, but it certainly did not do any favours for Slafkovsky’s development, which has come to a screeching halt recently.
A closer look at Slafkovsky’s underlying numbers at 5v5 reveals the first overall pick at the 2022 Draft started his season in style, producing very solid numbers throughout October, by controlling over 50 percent of the shots (CF%), and 47 percent of the expected goals (xGF%).
But his numbers took a significant hit in November, only to rally slightly in December, and then completely collapse since the start of the new year, as evidenced by the chart below.
The trendlines, in particular, are concerning.
One of the main factors that seem to indicate a correlation between his underlying results and his overall production (points per 60) seems to be his shooting rate, which, admittedly, is yet to reach a point where you could expect sustainability.
Unsurprisingly, the more Slafkovsky shoots, the more he produces, however, his shot rate has been quite unsteady during the first half of his rookie campaign.
Slafkovsky has only taken part in three games in January, but his lack of production probably isn’t due to a small sample size.
Help Desperately Needed
If we examine his last stretch of games, the lack of shots has become a worrying trend in his game, not to mention his underlying numbers have completely tanked.
The 18-year-old winger has only taken three shots in the last 10 games, which, predictably, has led to absolutely no offence.
Despite only playing in seven of those 10 games, fellow rookie Anthony Richard earned two even-strength points and took six shots on net.
With Slafkovsky on the ice in that time frame, the Canadiens only controlled 40 percent of the shots and 27 percent of the high-danger chances.
In other words, he’s getting buried on almost every shift.
Seeing as the Canadiens decided to keep Slafkovsky on the roster long enough to burn a year of contract control, it would be wise to figure out a situation in which the young player could gain some much-needed offence.
The key will be finding a line combination that will allow Slafkovsky to use his shot with much more frequency, possibly by playing him alongside linemates that have proven to be beneficial to his production in the past.
If the minutes cannot be found in the NHL, it may be time to bite the bullet and reassign Slafkovsky to the AHL, where prime minutes would be available and late-game benchings would no longer occur.
Because as it stands, Slafkovsky isn’t just struggling, he’s taking a step backwards in a crucial development season.
All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via Natural Stat Trick.