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.
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
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