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.

More reading…

Setting Expectations On Slafkovsky

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.

Jonathan Drouin

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.

Slafkovsky

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.

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-
182131528-19
280254267-25
368232851-26
476201737-18
AVERAGE77202646-22

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.

More reading…