Slafkovsky – Polarizing Two Groups

By JD Lagrange – Whether you like him or not, one has to admit that Juraj Slafkovsky is not having the kind of impact that even HE suspected coming in. He’s honest enough to have admitted to it in more than one occasion when asked. While he had a good – not great – rookie tournament, adding some NHL players to the mix has opened the eyes of the young Slovak.

What is the most unfortunate is listening and reading people jumping to the conclusion that he is a bust, or comparing him to the likes of Michael McCarron or Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Here is hoping that those doing that aren’t as premature in bed as they are with their hockey analysis! In both cases, it’s rather disappointing.

Just recently, we dedicated an article on expectations for Slafkovsky. While this website, closing in on its first anniversary, is getting a rapid growth (ranking in the top-12 Montreal Canadiens sites), it has yet to touch the majority of the team’s fan base. And even if it did, some individuals would continue on their trend of negative, as it seems like a way of life.

Underwhelming impact

So far, Slafkovsky has shown flashes of greatness, but also long stretches of ineffectiveness. He came in wanting to be the best player on the ice. He realizes now that it won’t be the case, in spite of his great self-confidence.

Here’s what he does well so far:

  • His skating abilities are beyond what one would expect from such a big man.
  • Not a bit hitter, but he uses his body extremely well to protect the puck.
  • He has a long reach and uses it effectively to check opponents.
  • His vision and playmaking abilities are what stands out the most at the moment.
  • He doesn’t hurt his team defensively when on the ice.

Now, what he doesn’t do as well:

  • He doesn’t shoot often, and takes too long to release his shot. Checking comes faster at this level, it’s an adaptation.
  • Likely because he’s not a selfish player and wants to fit in, he is thinking pass first, even when in scoring position. Cole Caufield did that when he first joined the team.
  • He hasn’t figured out yet how to fight through bigger, tougher checking. He needs to find passing lanes, what we call the soft spots in the offensive zone, to be a pass target.
  • A few blind passes, or easily anticipated by players at that level. This is absolutely normal for an 18 year-old coming into such a high level of play.

Two predominant groups

Right now on the internet, there appears to be two groups of people, fans and media members included. And those two groups are going at each other on social media…

Panic group

There is this one group of people who are already throwing Slafkovsky under the bus. Those are the premature ones I was referring to earlier. No name calling here folks, I’m simply pointing to the actions and behaviours out there!

You will recall that a vast majority of fans (and media) wanted the Canadiens to draft Shane Wright. Many of those people were/are hiding in the weeds waiting for their first occasion to pounce on the kid and the organization, in a lame attempt to be “proven right” (no pun intended). Those people are the same who were doing the same for Marc Bergevin, Michel Therrien, Claude Julien, Dominique Ducharme, Trevor Timmins… and a few players they dislike.

There is no satisfying this group. To them, it’s their way or the highway. When things don’t go their way, they’re silent. But watch out, they will come out of the shadow to say “I told you so”, even if it’s prematurely.

Defensive group

The other predominant group consists of people who get very defensive every time someone says something not-so-positive about a player, coach or GM. In many cases, their reaction is a direct result of the actions from the first group. The issue is that they blow it out of proportion, with what borders paranoia.

If someone points to something that goes against one they like, they jump to the conclusion that he/she has it against that player, coach or GM. For example, because I loved the Weber/Subban trade from day one (being a huge Weber fan), and because I wasn’t a fan of Subban’s high risk taking at inopportune times, I was accused of being racist and called a “hater”.

The defensive group takes something small and makes it big, with a “how dare you” attitude. Can you imagine right now, when it comes to Slafkovsky, the head butting that’s going on?

Give it time

Folks, while it is so obvious to most of us, take a chill pill, a few deep breath. Get some fresh air and leave your phone and social media behind for a bit. For one thing, it’s hockey and while a good source of entertainment, it’s not life. It’s not worth getting all worked up about and one day, you will understand that there are more important things in life.

But also, it’s way too early to jump to any conclusions, good or bad, when it comes to Juraj Slafkovsky. Remember that this was not a top-heavy Draft and while yes, it may have been said that he was one of the most NHL-ready prospects, it wasn’t said that he would have an immediate impact.

The organization, from Jeff Gorton to Kent Hughes, through Martin St-Louis and the Amateur Scouting staff, have all said that they aren’t looking at the best 18 year-old. They all stated for all to hear that they want the best player down the line. I keep referring to that but go look at Vincent Lecavalier’s first four seasons in the NHL… also a first overall pick.

Will he make the team? We don’t know. He may or may not need time in the AHL. And guess what? If he does, it’s not the end of the world. It won’t mean that he’s a flop, a bust. It also won’t mean that the Habs don’t like him as a prospect either!

Remember… Life is a Journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride as a Habs’ fan, as the future truly is bright. Just remember that future does not equal present.

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Most Impressive Prospects At Camp

By JD Lagrange – It’s still early on, but since the Rookie Camp and the start of the Canadiens’ main Training Camp, we have been given the opportunity to see some pretty amazing performances by several of the team’s top prospects. And we’re not talking about just one or two here.

In fact, for the purpose of this article, I originally wanted to do a top-5 of the most impressive prospects so far. But I simply couldn’t narrow it down to only five. I was leaving some guy who arguably could be on that list so I decided to do a top-10. Then, it left two young men who are also having a good camp, so I had to stretch it to the top-12! Never have I ever felt the need to go that deep during training camp talking about prospects!

12- Jan Mysak (2020 round 2 #48 overall by Montreal)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this 20 year-old center reminds me a lot of Tomas Plekanec. He’s not as noticeable as others because he’s not flashy, plus he’s been given third line assignments more often than not. But he is efficient at both ends of the ice and killed penalties against the New Jersey Devils. He still needs some maturing in the AHL… as did Plekanec back then.

11- Xavier Simoneau (2021 round 6 #191 overall by Montreal)

At 21 years of age, the 5-foot 7-inches, 178 lbs forward has displayed a rare combination of speed and skills set. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, but he has performed beyond my personal expectations that I had of him. He won’t crack this year’s line-up, but he could definitely surprise many within the next couple of years.

10- Mattias Norlinder (2019 round 3 #64 overall by Montreal)
Mattias Norlinder

We sometimes forget that he’s only 22 years old, do we? While he still has some stuff to work on in the defensive zone, I absolutely love the way he quaterbacks a power play. It’s particularly true when they use the umbrella system, with him at the high point. Good vision, he has this ability of finding the passing lanes. His decision-making needs to improve in his zone, as well as his coverage.

9- Antoine Coulombe (camp invitee, undrafted)

The 20 year-old goaltender from Montmagny, Quebec, played for the Shawinigan Cataractes. He was released by the Canadiens prior to their exhibition game against New Jersey. While I fully understand why he was cut, I thought that he could be have been a good option for Trois-Rivières on a AHL/ECHL two-way contract. But I left him on my list because he was, in my humble opinion, a very pleasant surprise.

8- Emil Heineman (2020 round 2 #43 overall by Florida)

Acquired in the Ben Chiarot trade at the last trade deadline, Heineman has been very impressive by his 200-foot game. He has been a threat on offense, and has made some good defensive plays too. We know that Kent Hughes had high praise for the 20 year-old after trading for him, but Martin St-Louis seems to appreciate him just as much.

“We’re trying to build something that is going to bring continued success. From what we see from [Heineman], we see a guy that could be part of that.” ~ Martin St-Louis.

7- Arber Xhekaj (undrafted, signed by Montreal)

His name is on everyone’s lips, even living rent-free in the Ottawa Senators’ fans minds since he took out two of their prospects in a rookie game in Buffalo. He’s big (6’4″, 238 lbs), he’s mobile, he hits hard and, as Sens’ prospect Zachary Massicotte found out, dropping the gloves against the 21 year-old could be a huge mistake. He had a good camp last year, which earned him a contract, and he’s picked up where he left off.

6- Kaiden Guhle (2020 round 1 #16 overall by Montreal)

Guhle didn’t play in the rookie tournament in Buffalo and has just recently taken part of scrimmages and games. The 20 year-old rearguard is displaying great skating abilities for a big man and his poise, maturity and decision-making at such a young age are what distinguish him from the rest. Don’t be shocked if he sticks with the Canadiens to start the season.

5- Jesse Ylönen (2018 round 2 #35 overall by Montreal)

Ylönen will turn 23 on October 3rd, and he is making a case to stay in Montreal so far. No, he’s not lighting the lamp but every time he’s on the ice, he displays some good attributes. His game suits the NHL game and his vision and anticipation are a notch above most prospects. In Laval, he showed what he can do on the power play with his one-timer, but he’s also sound defensively. I’m personally hoping that he can crack the line-up as he has more to show.

4- Jordan Harris (2018 round 3 #71 overall by Montreal)

He played ten games at the end of last year and the 22 year-old looked good. He’s having a very solid camp, showing the poise of a player much older. Good skater, he has struggled a bit on some aspects when they tried him on the right side, but he shows being adaptable. Good puck-mover with an active stick in the defensive zone, he won’t outmuscle anyone but positions himself to be effective.

3- Filip Mesar (2022 round 1 #26 overall by Montreal)

Often referred to as the “other first round pick”, or Robin to Slafkovsky (Batman) according to Chris Wideman, the 18 year-old Slovak is cool as a cucumber so far. Often a threat in the offensive zone, he likes having the puck on his stick and, for the most part, makes the right decisions with it already. Admittedly, he feels like he will need a year or two as he states being able to skate with these guys, but feels like they’re big and strong! He wants to bulk up.

2- Juraj Slafkovsky (2022 round 1 #1 overall by Montreal)

Obviously, he needs no introduction. The first overall pick at the last NHL Draft is taking some heat from a few fans because he’s not lighting the lamp. But hockey people will tell you that he’s very impressive. Strong, he uses his big body to protect the puck and separate himself from checks. What I wasn’t expecting is hove fast the 6-foot 3-inches, 238 lbs winger really is. Listening to him in an interview at the intermission of the exhibition against New Jersey, he’s not happy with his play… yet. This augurs well as he wants to be the best out there. But please Habs’ fans, keep your expectations in check!

1- Owen Beck (2022 round 2 #33 overall by Montreal)

He’s the talk of town right now, and rightfully so. The 18 year-old, second round pick at the last NHL Draft is taking everyone by surprise so far. Great of faceoffs, he stands out at both ends of the ice. And he’s earned every opportunities he’s received, being put into situations to showcase what he can do. He will most likely return to the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL with a list of things to work on, similarly to what the Canadiens did with Nick Suzuki at the same age.

Miscellaneous

An honourable mention to another camp invitee, John Parker-Jones 6-foot 7-inches, 230 lbs defenseman who played the rookie tournament on right-wing. Could be a good option for Trois-Rivières on a AHL/ECHL two-way?

Good prospects not making the list:

Some of the team’s very good prospects present at camp have not made the cut thus far. But we all know that they have the skills to turn things around. Justin Barron (he had a good exhibition game against the Devils), Logan Mailloux (injured), William Trudeau, Otto Leskinen, Joshua Roy, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Riley Kidney have a bright future ahead of them and some still have a shot at impressing.

Good prospects not present:

And there are other very, very good prospects who, for various reasons, were not at camp this year, but they will be in the future. Lane Hutson, Adam Engström, Jayden Struble, Vinzenz Rohrer, Sean Farrell, Jakub Dobes and Frederik Dichow are some of the team’s good prospects.

The Canadiens current have 11 more picks at the 2023 NHL Draft, including two first rounders: the Flames in the Monahan trade, and their own. Can we say that the future is bright?

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