(Arlington, Virginia) Few 18-year-old players make it to the NHL immediately after being drafted. Two or three forwards arrive there every year, sometimes a defender.
Posted September 6
Until 2021, the athlete enrolled in the first place systematically became part of the team that had selected him. Buffalo Sabers’ Owen Power, however, broke with tradition last season by returning to the NCAA.
It is therefore not entirely unlikely to ask whether Juraj Slafkovsky, first pick of the last draft, will start next season with the Montreal Canadiens or the Laval Rocket uniform, in the American League.
The young man himself is cautious about this. On Tuesday he met with reporters at the Washington Capitals training complex in Arlington, a suburb of the American capital, as part of the NHL Rookie Showcase, an event jointly organized by the Players Association and hockey card maker Upper Deck.
The Slovak, of course, has promised that he will “do everything to play in the NHL” as soon as possible. “But of course I will do what the Canadiens believe will be best for me,” he quickly added.
To a journalist who asked him if he had already settled in his adopted city, the giant indicated that he did not know “yet where” he would play.
The club’s management and coaching staff have not yet established an action plan with him, he assures.
“We haven’t talked about it yet. The field [des recrues] starts next week [la réponse] it will come from there. We’ll see if I’m ready. ”
Few points of comparison
A very intelligent one who can predict with certainty, at this point, Slafkovsky’s immediate future. Because recent history makes it difficult to find an obvious point of comparison.
From 2012 to 2021, or in the last 10 seasons, 31 players have established themselves in the NHL in their draft year, thus playing the majority of their team’s games. Twenty-five of these were forwards.
But only seven were Europeans and had never played regularly on North American tracks: Aleksander Barkov, Elias Lindholm and Valeri Nichushkin (2013), Patrik Laine (2016), Jesperi Kotkaniemi (2018), Kaapo Kakko (2019) as well as Tim Stützle (2020) ). We haven’t included David Pastrnak (2014) in our compilation since he started his draft season in the American League.
All but Nichushkin had played 41 to 85 games in European professional leagues before moving to North America. And they had been regular offensive contributors.
Having played only 31 games last season in Liiga, the main Finnish league, and having accumulated only 10 points there, Slafkovsky presents a decidedly different profile from the group described above.
In his entire life, he has only played a handful of international matches on North American ice rinks, which are smaller than European ice. This little champion already makes him say that he must regulate his “reaction rate”.
Three other players met at the Rookie Showcase confirmed they needed to make serious changes to their game as they crossed the Atlantic. Germany’s Lukas Reichel, of the Chicago Blackhawks, estimates he needed “10 to 15 games” before starting to feel comfortable in the American League. Swede Samuel Fagemo said he fought “15 to 20 games” at the Los Angeles Kings school club before finding orientation.
True, the two strikers, smaller than Slafkovsky, explained that it is along the scoreboards that the difference is most evident. “The game is faster and you have to protect the puck better,” Fagemo summed up. “There are some for which he shoots straight away, but it’s not really like that for everyone,” added Reichel.
“It’s not really a myth,” Czech goalkeeper Lukas Dostal insisted on the necessary adaptation between the two worlds.
“In Europe, forwards can outflank defenders, which happens very rarely here, the Anaheim Ducks’ hope continued. They must then slow down the game and wait for the second wave of support. The whole pace is different. ”
Adaptation, however, does not mean failure. Reichel found a way to rack up 10 points in his first 10 games with the Rockford IceHogs last season, his first in the United States.
To a lesser extent, the seven Europeans in the group described above also enjoyed themselves at the beginning. After 20 games, they had collected 7 (Lindholm) to 18 (Laine). No one, however, was able to sustain that pace for the entire first season.
Inevitably, when it comes to player development, the word patience comes up in the conversation. Many were still those who praised him on Tuesday. Defender Simon Edvinsson, recruited by the Detroit Red Wings in 2021, said he was delighted to have spent the last season in his native Sweden.
Buffalo Sabers defender Owen Power and Seattle Kraken striker Matty Beniers agreed. Selected first and second respectively in 2021, both returned to the University of Michigan rather than joining their respective clubs a year ago. It was the first time in 25 years that the top two prospects in the draft had postponed the start of their careers.
“It helped me as a player and as a person,” said Power. Also, Beniers pointed out, “we know how tough the NHL is, we want to perform as soon as we get there.”
Obviously, Slafkovsky doesn’t have the free time to choose his own destiny like Power and Beniers did. However, we suspect that he too will want to have an immediate impact on his new team.
It remains only to determine whether it will be the Canadian or the Rocket.