By JD Lagrange – In a recent article published on rds.ca, reporter Eric Leblanc asked some scouts their take on Juraj Slafkovsky and why so few had negative things to say. The answers that he got were both informative and… sparse. We know that Kent Hughes and the Canadiens have not made a decision yet and there is a reason for that. The decision is not as easy as some want to believe.
Leblanc first contacted a European scout of a NHL team who has watched Slafkovsky in many occasions, both in Liiga and on the international scene.
The main critic about Slafkovsky is the gap between his production with TPS Turku (5G-5A in 31 games) and what he’s done with Slovakia (7G in 7 games at the Olympics and 9 points in 8 games at the World Championship).
“It’s a bit hard to explain”, said this source who has been a scout for over 10 years at the NHL level. “But the first thing to realize is that it’s not easy to play in the Finnish league. The style of hockey being played is very tight, with all kinds of systems using the trap. Producing at a high level is quite the challenge, particularly for a young athlete.”
“As a matter of fact, if you were to put the best Canadian prospects from this upcoming NHL Draft into Liiga, I am convinced that it would be extremely hard for them as well”, he added.
Even with this reasonable questioning, trying to find fault for the good of this topic is a painful task. Since Slafkovsky has climbed up the ranks so rapidly this year, scouts were not able to find many faults in his game.
“His creativity as a playmaker is good, but not excellent. But how many 6-foot 4-inches players, driving the net with determination, have exceptional creativity too? Few players have all of those tools like Mario Lemieux”, explained that scout who struggled to find anything negative.
“He has to ensure playing with the same consistency and intensity that he’s known for. When he does it, like with the national team, he erases all doubts”, he added.
Let’s face it, Slafkovsky has not convinced every observer. On certain lists, he has fallen outside the top-5, while being first on others. This scout was skeptical at first, but got convinced as the year went on.
“I admit that my take on him has had its ups and downs because of his play in Liiga. I had my doubts for that reason. But, due to his second half of the season and his brilliance internationally, I have no more doubts.”, summarized this scout.
That gap between his play on the international scene and his performances in Finland could have cooled off a few NHL teams. This scout doesn’t buy it.
“I see that in a positive way because of what he did internationally, I have no worries about his potential for the NHL. After all, the NHL game suits him more than in Liiga and its particular style. Seeing him excel at the Olympics and at the World’s, I’m convinced that he will become a good NHL player, a great one even”, said the scout who loved watching him use his natural instincts in Slovakia’s uniform.
Picking Wright anyway?
It seems like this scout would select the European prospect if he was in the Canadiens’ position. However, the verdict isn’t that simple.
“Personally, I haven’t see Wright play as much, and I would pick a center before a winger. It’s still very difficult to find good centers. They often have more impact than wingers in games”, reminded the scout.
“But of course, it depends on what the team is looking for. Slafkovsky isn’t a center and he isn’t the most dynamic player around the net. He’s a power forward first and foremost”, he continued.
That’s a conclusion that shows the dilemma which likely plagues the hockey operations’ personnel of the Canadiens. The other element to consider is Slafkovsky’s confident, almost arrogant and relaxed personality.
“I love it, and you need confidence to succeed in the NHL. It’s not easy for more timid players to have success”, said the scout reached in Europe.
Access to other scouts
To add to this outlook on Slafkovsky, Leblanc went to the Black Book, the little bible of the reputed firm Hockey Prospect.
The Slovakian of 6-foot 4-inches and 229 lbs is first on their final list. But the most interesting part is reading the comments of a number of scouts on the debate for the first overall pick of 2022.
- “People outside of hockey have no idea of the pressure on the Canadiens to draft Wright. Even more so with a rookie GM, I’m thinking that it’s impossible that Wright isn’t their choice. Then, the Habs’ brass will get destroyed when he won’t be the best player in this draft”, said a NHL scout back in May.
- “I know many scouts who have Wright outside of their top-3. On my list, I have had Slafkovsky ranked number one since March”, said Mark Edwards, head scout for Hockey Prospect.
- “He had no production in his league in Finland, but his team was awful”, said a NHL scout back in January.
- “Evidently, he was impressive at the Olympic Games, but his numbers in Finland are scary. On my list, Joakim Kemell was slightly ahead recently”, said a scout in March.
- “I usually go for the center ahead of a winger, but sometimes, the winger is simply the better player. I have Slafkovsky ahead of Wright”, said another NHL scout.
- “In general, I will always prefer a center instead of a winger. But management must be careful to not focus too much on the center and miss out on a better player who happens to be a winger. In 2015, I had Mitch Marner (who was a winger) ahead of Dylan Strome (a center) and it was a very easy decision in my mind. But it’s often difficult to put a winger ahead of a center”, said Edwards of Hockey Prospect. Strome was selected third, behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, while Marner was selected fourth.
- “I am certain that more than 10 teams consider Slafkovsky as their first pick since the World Championship”, said a scout in June.
- “His play at the end of the season allows Montreal to pick the player that management likes the most. They have less pressure to pick Wright as the public now knows what we have known for a few months”, said another NHL scout in June.
Not the first time
This is far from the first time that we see NHL scouts speak up that way. Alain Chainey, who spent more than 20 years as a scout and Director of Amateur Scouting for the Anaheim Ducks, said he would select Juraj Slafkovsky. We quoted three more NHL scouts, in an earlier article, who believe that the Canadiens could go with someone else than Wright.
So as you can see, Wright extremists may want to tell us whatever they want to tell us. They can try to make us believe that, in their very, very limited experience and lack of watching those prospects life, Wright is the only suitable option. But those who do this for a living, the professionals, know that it’s not as clear cut. In fact, many wouldn’t be surprised if the Canadiens went with someone other than Shane Wright. Wanna bet some people will try to downplay those quotes… again?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be thrilled with whatever the Canadiens decide. They deserve our trust… until they prove otherwise. I’m just hoping that every Habs’ fan thinks that way. But from reading social media, I have a feeling that if the Habs pick someone other than Wright, you’ll see some outrage. But hey, we’re used it with this fan base, right?