Slafkovsky, No. 1 pick in 2022 Draft, takes in first day with Canadiens

BROSSARD, Quebec — Juraj Slafkovsky was right where he wanted to be his first day on the ice as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

The No. 1 pick in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Center in Montreal was among the 37 Canadiens prospects who skated at development camp and helped draw hundreds of fans to the suburban practice facility Monday.

“It’s a hockey city, so everyone likes hockey and I just enjoy it,” said Slafkovsky, an 18-year-old forward. “I always wanted somewhere where they love hockey and I think I’m probably in the best spot in the world for that. It’s just totally different. They are living 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 July 7 when he and defenseman Simon Nemec (No. 2, New Jersey Devils) became the highest NHL Draft picks from Slovakia, surpassing Marian Gaborik (No. 3 by the Minnesota Wild at the 2000 NHL Draft).

“I think people went crazy and they still are,” 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 Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 18 playoff games.
He was voted most valuable player of 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,” Slafkovsky said. “It’s the best thing that could happen to me and I just need to work hard so I prove it.”

A video of Slafkovsky working out intensely during off-ice training Sunday had reporters wondering if he was trying to break the stationary bike.

“For sure, I want to damage everything in here,” Slafkovsky said.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: 𝘉𝘌𝘈𝘚𝘛 𝘔𝘖𝘋𝘌 🔋#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/kGHr1E1QMB

Slafkovsky, who was No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters, had the company of his childhood friend at camp, forward Filip Mesar, who was also selected by Montreal (No. 26).

“It’s just a great thing that this happened, that we are both on the same team,” Slafkovsky said. “I was saying before the draft to the other guys that it would be nice if we get two guys drafted to the same team or whatever and it happened, so I’m happy that I’m 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 in 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 kids. And we were pushing each other year by year and now we are here, and maybe that’s a good chance to be better players and get to the next level.”

Canadians forward prospect Sean Farrell faced Slafkosky during the Olympics, when Slovakia defeated the United States 3-2 in a shootout during the quarterfinals.

“Everyone on our team was pretty shocked,” Farrell said. “It’s a kid with a cage on at 17 years old and he was probably the best player on the ice for them, just big, powerful, could really do it all for them. He’s got good hands, strong hands, and a strong body as well. We had a lot of pro guys over there as well and he would shield the puck away from them pretty easily.”

The Canadians’ decision to pick Slafkovsky at No. 1 surprised some who expected it would be center Shane Wright, who went No. 4 to the Seattle Kraken.

“After seeing him play in person I wasn’t surprised at all,” Farrell said. “I think a kid that big and that skilled it’s pretty rare, so I’m not surprised and really happy for him as well. It’s cool to have a guy like that at the camp and to be able to play with him and kind of get to know him a little bit more too is awesome. He’s a really good kid and playing with him was fun as well. Any time you get a chance to play with really good players like that, it’s great.”

Photo: Vitor Munhoz/Canadian Hockey Club Inc.

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