The Montreal Canadiens will need to decide what to do with Juraj Slafkovsky for the holiday season, and here are some things to take into account.
The 18-year-old has looked good in flashes for the Canadiens thus far this season, but continues to be relegated to fourth-line duty under Head Coach Martin St-Louis.
With the holiday period always being a difficult stretch for youngsters in their rookie season, and the tempting idea of sending him to the World Junior Championships, General Manager Kent Hughes has a big decision to make.
Although some may see sending Slafkovsky to the World Juniors as a negative, this Montreal Canadiens’ management group has shown an ability to think outside the box when it comes to the development of their youngsters.
They likely see the potential benefits in sending their 1st overall pick to such a tournament, but will be taking the next couple of weeks to evaluate whether it would be a worthwhile venture for both the player and the club.
Here are the big things to keep in mind:
A Good Measure Of Development
There would be no better way to evaluate where Slafkovsky truly is in his development than by letting him loose against players of his own age group.
Having skipped the most recent World Junior tournament this summer to prepare for the NHL season, getting Slafkovsky to measure up against his peers would help give the Canadiens a better view of what’s improved and what still needs to be worked on in his game.
Every top pick in the 2022 NHL Draft currently playing pro is expected to be loaned to their respective countries for the tournament, meaning that this will be a highly competitive edition of the World Juniors.
What’s more, the tournament will take place very close to home; with Halifax and Moncton set to host the 2023 edition of the World Juniors. Without having to worry about lengthy travel time, jet lag and post-tournament resting, Slafkovsky would be able to jump in and out of the tournament setting as a good means of both measuring his development, but also gaining some much-needed confidence in his game.
Far From Home
An interesting observation from this past week: Slafkovsky was allowed to play on the second line at home, but dropped to the fourth line on the road.
Head Coach Martin St-Louis prefers not to expose Slafkovsky against the top lines of other clubs, and thus reduces his time on ice when the Canadiens don’t have the advantage of the last change.
With the Montreal Canadiens playing all of two games at home between December 17th and January 7th (the length of time he’d be away for the tournament), it could be added incentive to send him to the World Juniors.
At the tournament, Slafkovsky would likely get 20+ minutes of usage per game and would be looking to carry a large part of the offensive load for Slovakia.
For the purposes of seven or so games, it may be a better use of Slafkovsky’s time to loan him to Slovakia for the three-week period, rather than have him play less than 100 minutes of NHL hockey during that time.
Going into the tournament, Slafkovsky would likely be one of the most used forwards and played in every possible offensive situation.
His inclusion in the tournament would also allow for the reformation of the devastating line that took the Hlinka-Gretzky in the summer of 2021. The trio of Slafkovsky, Philip the Butcher and 2023 NHL Draft-eligible Dalibor Dvorsky would likely be one of the most dangerous lines at the World Juniors, capable of going toe-to-toe with the best from Canada and Team USA.
It could be the added push necessary to propel the Slovaks to medal contention; and that kind of challenge could be more beneficial than playing a handful of games on an NHL fourth line during the holidays.
TPS forward Juraj Slafkovsky lights the lamp for his first goal of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Slovakia leads USA 3-0 early in the first period. @HCTPS #2022NHLDraft #HlinkaGretzkyCup pic.twitter.com/LSsxwbdxam
— Finnish Jr Hockey (@FINjrhockey) August 2, 2021