The Montreal Canadiens made Juraj Slafkovský the first overall pick at the Bell Centre back in July, his name announced to a mixed reaction due to a mix of shock and disappointment.
When he finally spoke to the media after being the first pick, he was asked about some fans voicing their displeasure.
“Hockey is their passion as well as mine,” he said that night. “Maybe some of them didn’t like me but I will do everything that I can do to play well for this team and they will actually maybe like me one day.”
In the months that followed, Canadiens fans rallied around Slafkovský. He also got a glimpse of what the Bell Centre can be like after a goal, and after Monday’s game he said that he would have to score his first NHL goal in Montreal so that he could get that kind of reception.
He just happened to score the very next game. The reaction he wanted to get, he received, and then some.
It was the perfect moment. It was his real ‘Welcome to Montreal’.
Most of the crowd in attendance likely didn’t even see the immediate reaction to the goal: the scream to Josh Brown that made the moment even bigger for those following the game at home or online.
Slafkovsky takes a high hit from Josh Brown, buries his first NHL goal and stares him down harder than Shane Wright stared down the Habs at the draft. pic.twitter.com/p1Yxm6EAVW— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 21, 2022
That was something that Canadiens general manager touched on at the Draft as well. “When we talk about his desire to be a difference maker you see it in the way he plays and when you speak to him,” Hughes said. “He’s a very charismatic kid.”
That emotion, that desire, that charisma has been on display since he was drafted but it really came out after the goal.
It’s very likely that Slafkovský will spend time in the American Hockey League, and that in the short-term his days in the NHL are numbered. What Thursday night solidified is that there is value in this time playing in Montreal.
The fact that he got a just reward for his improved play is just a bonus.