Montreal Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovský will probably admit that he didn’t have the best camp, but what he did show was an ability to improve quickly.
It may not be the sexiest ability that fans would want to see from the 2022 first overall pick, but it’s best to get used to it, because that’s not only how Slafkovský will be judged, but how the team should be judged as well. Points, whether in the standings, or on the scoresheet are secondary matters. If the team — and by extension, most of their young players — is better when the season ends in April than they are when they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night, that will be a successful year.
The Canadiens of the recent past haven’t had the best success in terms of developing their high draft picks. Most of those high draft picks — mainly Alex Galchenyuk and Jesperi Kotkaniemi — started in the NHL as soon as possible, like Slafkovský is. Former general manager Marc Bergevin used to say that the NHL isn’t a development league, and he’s right. Most of the time, the NHL is not a development league. The 2022-23 Canadiens are one of the exceptions to that rule. Everyone in the organization knows that they are tasked with making the young players better.
Now, not all development can happen at the NHL level. Martin St. Louis spoke to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels in a great interview and echoed statements that new general manager Kent Hughes has also said. If a player gets sent down to the AHL, it’s not necessarily performance based. They will use the AHL to make players better down the road and provide them with opportunities they won’t get in the NHL.
Slafkovský is not going to play 20 minutes a night in the NHL right away, and he isn’t on either power play unit to start, either. The team, despite starting him in the NHL, is taking a cautious approach. St. Louis has said that they don’t want to drown Slafkovský with information and coaching, and want to coach mistakes that are trends, not one-offs. By putting him in the NHL, they will see what he needs to work on. Some of that can be done in the NHL, and if they do need to send him to Laval, they won’t be afraid to “hurt his feelings,” as St. Louis told Engels.
The key to placing Slafkovský in the NHL is that the team will be able and willing to adapt. They have said that all of their young players will be evaluated on an ongoing basis and that’s the key. The players will show where they will need to play.
So far, all the Canadiens have shown in their development plan has been words. We have yet to really see it in action, other than drills. How they adapt and adjust as the season goes will judge how their development will work, not the ghosts of the past. Slafkovský as it stands isn’t being rushed. The decider of that will be how they handle the ups and downs of not only Slafkovský, but all of their young players.
What St. Louis said about Slafkovský also applies to the organization. They will make mistakes. Will they make the same one twice, and will they react swiftly to not compound the initial mistake?