By JD Lagrange – Often times, players get the blunt end of the deal by fans and members of the media not for things they did or did not do, but rather because those people set unrealistic expectations for them. Granted, what is realistic or unrealistic is debatable and fluid depending on who we talk to. But most times, it’s not the player’s fault if he doesn’t meet what some believe he should be meeting.
I have personally written about the similarities between Kaiden Guhle and Shea Weber. But I steered short of setting expectations that Guhle will be the next Weber. No, he will be the next Kaiden Guhle. While styles and junior career paths are comparable, it doesn’t mean that one should think it will keep on the same curve. Just like thinking that he will make the team this year for sure is a mistake.
Many had set expectations on Jonathan Drouin. Some of the blame might have come from then GM Marc Bergevin after acquiring him. But the main reason why Drouin is a scapegoat to many Habs’ fans is because THEY feel like he should be someone he’s not. THEY feel like he should be a point-per-game player (or so). THEY feel like he should be driving the net, digging in the corner, score 25-30 goals and be stellar defensively. You see, it’s not the player that’s disappointing. The player is what he is. It’s those fans’ expectations that are simply unrealistic.
Now comes Juraj Slafkovsky into the picture in Montreal. Because he was selected first overall, because the Canadiens chose him over fan favourite Shane Wright, because he’s big and strong, and because of the fact that the fan base was burnt twice in a row with Alex Galchenyuk and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the young Slovak already comes with immense pressure on his shoulders.
So allow me to at least attempt to bring some perspective to those who cannot help but place unrealistic expectations on players. For one, this year was not a top-heavy draft. So no Sidney Crosby, no Alex Ovechkin, no Connor McDavid was available. These young men are all one level below the superstar level.
Then, if they folded to fan pressure, Wright would be the Habs’ property. You see, management doesn’t care what expectations YOU have on the kid. THEY have a plan and THEY will follow it. They will develop him the way they feel he needs to develop. Fans can’t complain about prior management’s style of development and not give these guys a chance to show if they are better or not. Fans must understand that it will take some time.
“The goal with Slaf is to make the best player we can make, not the best 18-year-old player. We’re going to make the decision that helps us make him a better hockey player. At 18, it’s not trying to do everything to make him have a good season, it’s coaching him and having a plan for him. Like I’m telling you, his play in training camp, his demeanour with the veterans, how he’s able to play in exhibition games. His game is going to speak to us and we’ll make the decision that’s best for the kid, for the Habs.” – Martin St. Louis
But also, look around the NHL. Yes, look at the high picks in the history of the NHL. You will see that not all have a huge impact at 18-19 years old. Some even needed time in the AHL before developing into great NHL players.
Let’s play a game. Guess who the following player is? Those are his first four seasons in the NHL and yes, he started in the NHL immediately after his draft.
You may have guessed it. The guy was selected first overall at the 1998 NHL Draft. Stands at 6’4″ and 215 lbs. That’s right, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning and now works for the Montreal Canadiens. His name is… Vincent Lecavalier! He didn’t have too shabby of a career, did he?
So again, management has a plan for Slafkovsky. Each fan and each media member has his or her own. Management has what they feel are realistic expectations on their top prospect. Can fans and media members say the same? Some do, no doubt about it. But rest assured that some don’t. And you’ll be hearing voices from those who wanted Shane Wright as the Canadiens’ pick. They’re just hiding in the weeds right now, waiting for the most opportunistic time to pounce. Sad, I know… but an unfortunate reality of this market.