The Slovak Ice Hockey Federation released their preliminary roster for the rescheduled 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, and Montreal Canadiens prospects Juraj Slafkovský and Filip Mešár were both absent from the list. When contacted, my colleague Matej Deraj — journalist for Slovak outlet Denník Šport and Slovakia regional scout for McKeen’s Hockey — indicated that “Slafkovský is almost sure not to play and Mešár’s start is “not recommended by the Habs.”
Deraj further said that neither is likely to suit up in their national colours come August, although the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation is still hoping to reach an agreement that would permit Mešár’s involvement.
Other unofficial sources have stated to me that Mešár’s participation was a personal decision. Similar reports have also surfaced regarding New York Rangers prospect Adam Sýkora, but head coach Ivan Feneš said that Sýkora’s situation (along with those of the other members of the 2022 draft class) will likely not be clarified until Wednesday.
The news may be disappointing for Canadiens fans who had hoped to see their newest first rounders play on the international stage, but my opinion is that this is a prudent decision on the part of the Habs organization. Slafkovský in particular has played a lot of hockey in the 2021-22 season: the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August 2021, a full season with TPS where the team went to the Liiga finals, Olympic qualifiers and the main tournament itself, the cancelled World Juniors in December, and the World Championship in May 2022.
The move also indicates, in my mind, that the Canadiens intend for both Slafkovský and Mešár to play North American professional hockey. There is a very narrow window between the completion of the World Juniors on August 20th and the start of Habs rookie camp in mid-September. Any decision to hold Mešár out of the World Juniors is likely made with this in mind, and leans towards the Canadiens braintrust wanting the youngster to be present within the organization proper (as opposed to playing for another organization in the CHL or in Slovakia) in 2022-23.
Which, in turn, makes sense. Both Slafkovský and Mešár have been playing professional hockey for two seasons now, and even Mešár would likely see a move to age-restricted hockey as somewhat of a step down. Leaving Mešár in Montreal, most likely playing with the Laval Rocket, would give him an opportunity to learn from both the Rocket and Canadiens coaching staff throughout the season.