Slafkovsky, first pick in the 2022 draft, participates in the first day with the Canadians
BROSSARD, Quebec — Juraj Slafkovsky was exactly where he wanted to be on his first day on the ice as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
The first pick in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at the Bell Center in Montreal was among 37 Canadiens prospects who skated at development camp and helped draw hundreds of fans to the suburban training center on Monday.
“It’s a hockey town, so everyone loves hockey and I enjoy it,” said Slafkovsky, an 18-year-old forward. “I’ve always wanted a place where they love hockey and I think I’m probably in the best place in the world for that. It’s just totally different. They live a hockey life and I don’t think it’s anywhere else. in the world like this.”
Slafkovsky (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) made history on July 7 when he and defenseman Simon Nemec (No. 2, New Jersey Devils) became Slovakia’s top NHL draft picks, surpassing Marian Gaborik (#3 for the Minnesota Wild in the 2000 NHL Draft).
“I think people went crazy and they still do,” Slafkovsky said. “It’s a historic moment for Slovakia, so they have to be.”
Slafkovsky had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 31 regular season games for TPS in the Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 18 playoff games.
He was voted Most Valuable Player at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, when he scored seven goals to help Slovakia win bronze, the country’s first Olympic medal.
“It’s great to be a Canadian,” said Slafkovsky. “It’s the best thing that can happen to me and I just need to work hard to prove it.”
Video of Slafkovsky training hard during an off-ice practice on Sunday had reporters wondering if he was trying to smash the stationary bike.
“Of course I want to damage everything here,” Slafkovsky said.
Slafkovsky, who was No. 1 in the final NHL Central Scouting International Skater Rankings, had the company of his childhood friend at camp, forward Filip Mesar, who was also selected by Montreal (No. 26).
“It’s just a good thing that it happened, that we’re both on the same team,” Slafkovsky said. “I was saying before the draft to the other guys that it would be nice if we had two guys drafted on the same team or whatever and it happened, so I’m happy to be here with him.”
It was the first time Slovakia had three players chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft.
“It was a crazy night for Slovakia, and I was very shocked to be drafted from Montreal to Montreal,” Mesar said. “It was something special and I’m very happy to be here, and also with my friend, it was great. We were very good friends since we were children. And we were pushing each other year after year and now we are here, and maybe it’s a good chance to be better players and to step up.”
Canadians forward Sean Farrell faced Slafkosky at the Olympics, when Slovakia beat the United States 3-2 in a quarter-final shootout.
“Everyone on our team was pretty shocked,” Farrell said. “He’s a kid with a cage at 17 and he was probably the best player on the ice for them, just big, powerful, he could really do anything for them. He’s got good hands, strong hands and body strong We also had a lot of pro players there and he protected the puck for them quite easily.
The Canadiens’ decision to pick Slafkovsky at No. 1 came as a surprise to some who expected it to be center Shane Wright, who dropped to No. 4 from the Seattle Kraken.
“After seeing him play in person, I wasn’t surprised at all,” Farrell said. “I think such a big and talented kid is quite rare, so I’m not surprised and really happy for him too. It’s cool to have a guy like that at camp and to be able to play with him and in kind of getting to know him a bit more too is great. He’s a really good lad and playing with him was also fun. Anytime you get the chance to play with really good players like that, it’s great.
Photo: Vitor Munhoz/Canadian Hockey Club Inc.