The individual accolades have rained over Juraj Slafkovský this season. Olympic MVP. All-star. Best goal-scorer and most points. The Olympics really were a coming-out party for the big winger, but he has been relatively quiet on the domestic front with TPS, only managing 10 points (5G, 5A) in 31 games, with a slightly better production in the playoffs of seven points (2G, 5A) in 18 games.
He has spent the last three seasons in Finland with one of the top clubs, and his stock in the domestic league has been improving steadily. However, it is at international level that Slafkovský has stood out, and it will be at that level that his final draft position will be determined as he will be included on the Slovak team going to the World Championship.
It would be easy to say that it is his size that has stood out, but the fact is that Slafkovský hasn’t played much at the under-18 or under-20 level, having to battle it out in professional situations this year. It is easy to see him turning into an NHL player; he has the size and reach, and his puck-protection skills are elite. Adding a top-notch shot to that means a lot of teams will jump at the chance to grab him early.
Can a good World Championship propel him up the order? I am not so sure. I don’t see him having that elite hockey sense that a team would need to see to take him that soon and perhaps turn him into a centre during his development, as Vancouver did with Elias Pettersson. There are two very good centres at the top of the draft who will check off more of those boxes.
Birthplace: Kosice, Slovakia
Date of birth: March 30, 2004
Weight: 218 lbs.
Team: TPS (Liiga)
The size is obvious and there is still room to fill out. This has meant that he has played with bigger and stronger players in his formative years rather than using his physical gifts to destroy the Junior leagues, and that experience will come in handy when it is time to take the next step in his career. His balance and power help him along the boards and in front of the net. He can protect the puck and create space for himself with ease.
An accurate shot complements those abilities. It is especially devastating from in close, where he uses his power to create separation and can either drag the puck around the goalkeeper or use his wrists to lift it just above the pad of a butterfly goalie.
Despite the finishing ability, you don’t see many goals from afar. That is partly due to his role and work area on the ice, but he also needs to work on the strength of his shot, especially the weight transfer in order to generate even more power. The good thing is that this is a relatively easy fix, and something that a skills coach can address. Fortunately for him, it should be an easier adjustment to the North American ice where the distance to the goal is less compared to the European-sized rinks.
The more pressing weaknesses all relate to his skating. He is an average skater, not having the stride to acceleration quickly nor the edgework to quickly turn and burn. This also means that he can’t skate around defenders with sheer speed, but rather relies on his power and handling skills to create separation. He has to work hard for his transitions plays, and those will become more difficulty as the average speed ramps up in the world’s top league.
His defensive and neutral-zone work are not well developed. He uses his long stick to cut off passing lanes, which can work out for him in some situations, but this is an area that is in need of development to work at an NHL level.
Elite Prospects: #6
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #5
NHL Central Scouting: #1 (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #2
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #8
He has risen from the ashes to claim a top spot in the NHL draft after a fantastic Olympic tournament. The one question that arises is if he needs good players that can build up the play, or if he can learn to do this himself. With the Slovak Olympic team, he was put on the power play and moved between the top two lines. In Liiga with TPS, he hasn’t had the same support and usually been deployed on the third line, and difference in performance is apparent.
I do see Slafkovský on a top line in NHL in two years’ time. The question for teams will most likely be if they value a second-line centre, a defenceman, or a top-line winger more. If a team is after a winger, there in no chance that it will pass on him. He is as sure a bet as you can have in 2022.