Slafkovsky – A Taste of Maple Syrup And Poutine

By JD Lagrange – The debate is on: where will Juraj Slafkovsky play this upcoming season? And the answers are as variant as there are fans, or so it seems. They go from playing in the OHL for the Erie Otters, who own his rights, to top line in the NHL, and anything in between. Yet, Canadiens’ Co-Director of Amateur Scouting, Nick Bobrov, dropped a hint when he met the press with Martin Lapointe (Director of Player Personnel and Amateur Scouting) after the Draft.

According to Bobrov, Slafkovsky has nothing more to learn by returning in Liiga, a league he qualifies as extremely defensive. The Canadiens feel that the big winger needs to tap more into his offensive skills while adapting to the smaller ice surfaces of North America. He also stated that this will be a decision taken with Slafkovsky’s input. If you read between the lines, it basically means that unless the young Slovak insists on returning to Europe, he will likely play on this side of the big pond next season.

His contract

Juraj Slafkovsky signed his ELC

Before getting into where he will be playing, we must be aware of Slafkovsky’s contract structure. He has signed his entry level contract (ELC), which comes with a minimum cap hit of $950,000. An important factor to keep in mind however, is that he can get as much as $3.5 million in bonuses on top of that. According to puckmedia.com, there are two categories of Performance Bonuses for forwards:

“A” Bonuses are worth $212,500 each, to a maximum of $850,000 (maximum 4 achieved). For players drafted starting in 2022, “A” bonuses are worth $250,000 each, to a maximum of $1,000,000 (maximum 4 achieved). They are achieved by each of:

  • 20 goals
  • 35 assists
  • 60 points
  • Top six in Time on Ice among forwards (in total and/or per game) on team (minimum 42 games)
  • Top three in +/- among forwards on team (minimum 42 games)
  • 0.73 points per game (minimum 42 games)
  • End-of Season All Rookie Team
  • All Star Selection
  • All Star MVP

“B” Bonuses are worth a maximum of $2 Million (up to $2.5M for players drafted in 2022 and later), and the full amount of the bonus is awarded if any of the following is achieved:

  • Top Ten in NHL Forward Goals, Assists, points, or points per game (min 42 GP)
  • Win any of the following trophies: Hart, Selke, Richard, Conn Smythe, Norris
  • 1st or 2nd team All-Star

Contract structure: If an entry-level contract has performance bonuses, the first $850K (up to $1M for players drafted in 2022) are “A” bonuses, and the remainder (to a maximum of another $2M or $2.5M for players drafted in 2022 or later) are “B” Bonuses. For example:

  • If a contract has $1.1M in bonuses, the first $850K are “A” bonuses, and the remaining $250K are “B”
  • If a contract has $500K in bonuses, they are all “A” bonuses. The player would get $212,500 each for the first 2 items achieved, and then $75,000 if a 3rd item is achieved.

The CBA allows teams to differ the bonuses but eventually, they have to count against the cap.

Unlikely going to junior

Because he was drafted out of a professional league in Europe, Slafkovsky doesn’t have to abide by the NHL-CHL transfer agreement, meaning that he is free to play in the AHL as a teenager.

His CHL rights are owned by the Erie Otters, but it is unlikely he will return to Junior after playing pro last season. So it essentially means that he will either make the Montreal Canadiens or be sent down to play with the Laval Rocket to begin the season.

“Slafkovsky is a pretty impressive kid. He’s a very strong kid. He’s big, but he still has lots of room to grow. He’s a kid that you want to be around. He’s got such a charisma, you want to be talking to him, you want to be around him. He wants to make a difference, and that’s the way he plays the game. Here in Montreal, he just loves it. He had a feel for it on Thursday when all the fans were cheering for him. This guy, he’s a hockey player, and he wants to get better. He’s not perfect, but he wants to get better, and for me that’s a hockey player.” ~ Martin Lapointe, Director of Player Personnel and Amateur Scouting

Size factor

One of the biggest deterrents sometimes in deciding where a teenagers should be playing goes beyond talent. Countless times have we seen players coming out of junior or Europe not being fully developed physically, being vastly underweight to face grown men at the highest levels of pro hockey. These kids can get man-handled when facing the top athletes in the world, and severe injuries can occur just because of that.

It is not the case when talking about Slafkovsky. Standing at 6-foot 3-inches and 218 lbs, and having played against men in Liiga, at the Olympics and at the World Championships, he has the physique to handle the bigger North American brand of hockey on smaller ice surfaces.

AHL or NHL

Based on the Canadiens brass’ comments, on the caliber of the player (first overall pick) and on his size, it seems legitimate to think that Slafkovsky’s best bet for next season will be at the pro level in North America. What this means is that he is most likely going to get immerge into the maple syrup culture of Montreal/Laval.

As a first overall pick, he will certainly be given every opportunity to showcase what he can do at camp and in pre-season. He might even start the season in Montreal. But as a waivers exempt youngster, it is also possible that he could be making the 30 minutes trip between Montreal and Laval fairly regularly throughout the season.

I personally don’t expect him to start the season on the top-2 lines in Montreal. But he could (or should) very well play that role in Laval. If in Montreal, I can see him being placed with a couple of sound veterans to start.

Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Drouin – Dach – Dadonov
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Gallagher
Hoffman – Evans – Armia

More reading…

Cayden Primeau: What Does The Future Hold?

By JD Lagrange – Saying that the 2021-22 season has been a tough, tough one for everyone in Montreal would be a huge understatement. Breaking records for most man-games lost (by a wide margin), including long term injuries to key players on the team, was more than any team could have gone through unscathed. Not only has the team depth been tested, but it has brought in players that weren’t ready for the NHL, playing in too big of roles… too soon.

There is no better example of that than Canadiens’ prospect goaltender Cayden Primeau. Up until then, he was developing nicely. The organization, with Marc Bergevin at the helm, has always claimed that he would need around 150-160 games in the AHL before being ready. So when they saw that Carey Price’s return kept getting delayed, they claimed Samuel Montembeault off waivers from the Florida Panthers just so that Primeau could continue developing in Laval.

Not NHL ready

What they were not prepared for – and who could blame them – was seeing veteran back up goaltender Jake Allen get injured as well. Under new management at that point, the team was slow to react and with the combination of underwhelming performances by Montembeault, pulled several times, Primeau was asked to take on an even bigger role. The combination of not being NHL-ready and playing in front of a decimated team was a recipe for disaster for the young goal keeper.

The Farmington Hills, Minnesota native appeared in 12 games for the Canadiens, starting nine of those games and coming into relief three times. Primeau had a few great games, but did not look good at all most of the games. His record stood at 1-7-1, with a 4.80 goals against average and a .868 saves percentage, before management traded for Andrew Hammond to allow the 22 year-old goaltender to return to Laval. By that point, many had given up on his as a quality prospect. Even those who hadn’t lost faith were questioning the amount of damage this stint in the NHL would do to his confidence.

Return to Laval

Primeau admits that he had some work ahead of him and he did what he had to do in order to get better. He’s a fighter and no stranger to beating the odds. Selected in the seventh round by the Canadiens at the 2017 NHL Draft, he has always had to fight to get better, to prove his worth.

“I spoke to the team’s sports psychologist. We spoke about the fact that even though we didn’t know exactly, at the time, what would come out of it, there was some positive to get from it. I’m hoping to never have to go through such moments ever again, but I know that it made me stronger today, and I’m grateful for that. I am a much better goalie than I was at the start of the season”, said Primeau.

Cayden Primeau

He played 17 regular season’s games after being sent back down to Laval, where he worked at regaining his confidence. In those 17 games, he managed a 3.11 GAA and a .907 Sv%, having good and not so good starts. But being away from the Montreal spotlight was what he needed.

“To be able to find my rhythm and be able to focus on returning to the basics, it was huge for me. I think that it’s that stability that helped me the most to regain confidence”, added Primeau.

And did he ever bounce back! In the playoffs, Primeau gave the Rocket a chance to win every night, leading his team to one win away from a Calder Cup finals appearance. He finished the AHL post-season with a 2.17 GAA and a solid .936 Sv%. He even caught Rocket’s head coach Jean-François Houle a bit by surprise.

“Yes, he surprised me”, said Houle. “And as I told him, what I liked of him, is that I found that he had a lot more confidence. He was more solid in front of his net when teams were going at him trying to push him. He stood his grounds a lot more than at the start of the season. He managed the games a bit better with the stoppages of play. When we needed a whistle, he froze the puck or directed the rebounds up high. His game management was much better”, noticed Houle.

“Everyone saw, during the playoffs, how good he really was”, acknowledged Kevin Poulin, forced to give Primeau the net towards the end of the season. “He was well prepared, well focussed. He gave us a chance to win every night, even when we weren’t having our best games.”

Next season

So what does next season bring for Primeau? At this time, he is careful and realistic. If he’s thinking of getting into the NHL short term, he’s not saying it.

“It obviously will be the biggest off-season of my career, I have no doubt. But I don’t want to put expectations as to where I’ll be starting next season. I’ll give my all this summer, I’ll come to camp and hope for the best”, said Primeau.

For Poulin, who make the NHL at 20 but could never stick, there is no doubt about what Primeau needs.

“I think that he needs another good year in the AHL. He needs to play a lot, and for his focus be solely on the Rocket, that he doesn’t have to be called up too much. He needs to play his games and develop.”

Jean-François Houle

“As a goalie, it’s a lot more mental than physical at some point”, added the 32 year-old veteran. “He gained in confidence during the playoffs. If he can bring this back next season, be more confident. Then you can give him a chance, but not just because there’s an injury or something. A real chance”, said Poulin.

Houle has no hesitation in supporting his veteran goaltender.

“It’s true not just for him, but for many other players. You have got to be patient, you have to take the time. We have to ensure to develop players well, and that takes time sometimes. It sometimes takes several years in the AHL. Skipping steps, sometimes, is not very good. I think that we have to be patient as an organization and I think it’s the way that we will be able to develop more players”, said Houle.

As we explained in an article earlier this season, some of today’s top goaltenders didn’t break through until they turned 25-27 years old. It is way too soon to give up on Primeau and those who are guilty of doing just that could end up having a mea culpa in a few years. The Canadiens certainly haven’t given up on their young prospect and that’s good to see.

More reading…