The Montreal Canadiens are looking to take a step in the right direction, and for that to happen, so too must Juraj Slafkosvky.
After an underwhelming rookie season, which saw the 19-year-old pot four goals and six assists for 10 points in 39 games, Juraj Slafkovsky is going to have to take his game up a notch or two this upcoming season if the Canadiens’ faithful are going to believe in the success of this rebuild.
The former 1st overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft looked like he belonged at times, but unfortunately had his season cut short just as he was starting to look comfortable on the ice; while other top prospects like Simon Nemec, David Jiricek and Logan Cooley continued to build momentum.
In their most recent NHL projections ESPN projected a 55-point season for Slafkovsky in his sophomore season, but NHL betting odds currently favouring a point haul of under 40 points for the youngster this season, but, before placing any bet, it’s important to know some initial betting guidelines and context.
Let’s take a look at what a realistic output could look like for the 19-year-old this season, and what the Canadiens need to see for the campaign to be successful.
Building Momentum, Playing With Consistency
If we take a look at recent first-overall picks between 2013 and 2021, none had a slower start to their career than Jack Hughes.
After a rookie season that saw him register just seven goals and 14 assists for 20 points in only 61 games, similar concerns began to rise about Hughes’ NHL readiness and whether he was rushed.
As a sophomore, however, Hughes came back the following season showing some signs of life, improving on his rookie season with 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in just 56 games.
31 points in 56 games translates to approximately 45 points over an 82-game schedule, which is a respectable pace for a sophomore who’s trying to find his bearings.
The importance here was always progress, and playing in a more convincing fashion on a consistent basis.
It’s no surprise that Hughes then took off in his third season, registering 56 points in just 49 games.
It goes to show that patience is always essential when it comes to talented youngsters, and that experience is worth its weight in gold in this extremely competitive league.
If Slafkovsky is able to build up some offensive momentum, play in a more convincing fashion on the ice and stay healthy, it will already be a good step in the right direction.
But he can’t do that playing 11 minutes a game.
The Canadiens need to hold up their end of the bargain and provide their 1st-overall pick with some opportunity; without necessarily handing it to him.
If we look at other top picks in recent drafts, none have come under more scrutiny than a duo of New York Ranger forwards, Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko.
1st and 2nd overall picks respectively, neither has been able to hit the 40-point mark in their first three seasons in the NHL.
It’s certainly not for a lack of talent or desire, but it’s rather evident that they’re also not being utilized like most top picks are in the NHL.
Lafrenière and Kakko consistently find themselves outside the Rangers’ top six due to their elite depth on the wings, with Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider taking up the top line, and deadline rentals like Andrew Copp, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane pushing down the lineup.
In a regular setting on a truly rebuilding club, each youngster would be a fixture in the top-six getting ample usage, likely on the top powerplay unit; favourable deployment that would have earned them a significant boost in points.
Juraj Slafkovsky faces a similar, albeit less challenging, situation with the Montreal Canadiens, with him having to battle for ice time with other top youngsters like Cole Caufield, Alex Newhook, Kirby Dach and Nick Suzuki in the Montreal Canadiens’ top six.
Pepper in veterans like Josh Anderson and Sean Monahan occupying spots in the Canadiens’ top nine to boot, and Slafkovsky often found himself on the fourth line with limited power play time.
If given the opportunity to play in the top six this season with consistent powerplay time, the favourable usage and the ability to play with more talented players will surely improve his offensive production.
Become Better, Faster, Stronger
Coming into training camp last season at 238 pounds was likely not the most optimal weight for a youngster to make the jump to the NHL; a league predicated above all on speed and skill.
Slafkovsky was often seen chasing the play and couldn’t get the necessary speed to create separation from the opposition, causing plays to die well before he could execute them.
After sustaining his knee injury, Slafkovsky continued his conditioning, first working his upper body and then quickly returning to the ice in April before undertaking a rigorous off-season of training.
Rather than attending the development camp, Slafkovsky was working on his conditioning in Recany, Czechia, where he focused on improving his core strength as well as his breathing techniques with strength and conditioning coach Michal Bretenar.
In changing his breathing rhythm, Slafkovsky was able to take his conditioning up a few levels, increasing his lung capacity by 20%.
It’s clear now that the young forward was winded rather quickly in his rookie season, as his body acclimatized itself to the speed and physicality of the NHL.
If the 19-year-old is able to bring his conditioning to average at the NHL level at 19, it would already be a massive help for him in being able to keep up, and eventually distinguish himself in the big leagues.
So What Does Good Look Like?
Unless the injury bug strikes the Montreal Canadiens yet again, Slafkosvky is likely to be playing in a middle-six role, now that Mike Hoffman, Denis Gurianov, Jonathan Drouin and Rem Pitlick are no longer in the fold; at least to start.
Should he remain healthy, a 40-point campaign is a realistic point to set for the youngster, with a high range of 50 points if he were to take his game up a few notches.
All Slafkovsky seemingly needs at this point is better luck in the health department and a little more opportunity.
A strong season will go a long way in quelling much of the worry that has radiated from the Montreal Canadiens fan base over the last few months; and reassure many fans that the development of the club’s young players is in safe and capable hands.