The first overall pick in 2022 didn’t exactly have a good rookie season, but that was through no fault of his own. The Canadiens were heavily plagued by injuries last year and Slafkovsky had to call it a season in January after playing just 39 games when he went down with a knee injury. As a result, he could only manage 10 points in his first campaign in the NHL and by the time he got injured, he hadn’t got a point in a month.
Martin St-Louis tried to ease his rookie in, after all, he had to get used to many things, not only playing in the NHL where the game is quicker and the hits are harder, but also to the North American ice dimensions, which is never easy for a European player. As a result, Slafkovsky was mostly confined to the bottom six, although he did see some action in the second quarter alongside Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson. The overabundance of veteran forwards certainly didn’t help matters and he only got an average of 12 minutes of ice time a game.
Now that his knee is fully healed, Slafkovsky has been training hard, even going to Czech Republic to train with new strobe technology. The forward has decided to focus on his chore strength and his breathing techniques with strength and conditioning coach Michal Bretnar. You’ve probably seen the pictures on social media in early July, hopefully, this will serve the youngster well.
Juraj Slafkovsky is currently training in Říčany in the Czech Republic with strength and conditioning coach Michal Bretenar who specializes in "changing the breathing rhythm and removing ineffective breathing stereotypes" using integrated physiological training (IFT). pic.twitter.com/BsSjsMGOzD
— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) July 2, 2023
So what can we expect from Slafkovsky in his sophomore season, probably the same thing he expects from himself, a better season. In an interview with Tomas Prokop he said: “I believe I’m well prepared, and I’ll play better than in my rookie season. I have my goals, but I’ll keep them secret.” It’s probably a wise choice for the young Slovak to keep his hand close to his chest, the pressure will be high enough in hockey mad Montreal without turning it up a notch by spelling out in own expectations. Having lost some weight, the forward expects to be faster on the ice which should be a big help, given the way Marty St-Louis’ team plays.
It's hard to set a target production for Slafkovsky because so much depends on how he’ll be used and how the team decides to go forward with its surplus to requirement veterans. Will the likes of Mike Hoffman and Joel Armia be given more ice time than him like last season? Hoffman averaged 15:40, including power play time while Joel Armia average close to 15:00 minutes, if that doesn’t change, it will be hard to improve.
When the Canadiens went out and traded for Alex Newhook, they said that he would be in a better environment to develop in Montreal than he was in Colorado where he lacked opportunities to step up. The Canadiens have to be careful not to put the young Slovak in the same situation. Kent Hughes said he didn’t want to sign free agent veterans that would hinder his young players’ progress, but he’s still stuck with remnants of the previous regime taking up space under the salary cap and minutes on the ice.
The NHL is a tough league to play in and it’s normal that it takes some time for a player to find his rhythm, yes even for a first overall pick. Look at New Jersey’s Jack Hughes for instance, he was the first overall pick in 2019 and now has four years of experience in the league in which he got 21, 31, 56 and 99 points as his ice-time progressed. Patience is a virtue, but a young player needs ice-time to progress, and I hope Slafkovsky sees a lot of it this season. Providing he stays healthy and his time on ice goes up, I think 35 points is a realistic expectation for the youngster.
Juraj Slafkovsky taunting a Coyotes player after scoring his first NHL goal lol pic.twitter.com/nIP1zy4rgl
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 21, 2022
Some are advocating that Slafkovsky would be better off getting a truckload of ice-time in the AHL but unless he has a disastrous training camp, I don’t see the Canadiens sending him down to Laval. Hughes and co. are all about giving their youngsters confidence in themselves and I’m hopeful that the young Slovak will instead move up the line-up and progressively find himself a spot in the top six. I don’t see him landing right away on the top line alongside Caufield and Suzuki, but I’d be curious to see what he could do on a line centered by Kirby Dach. What do you expect from Slavkosky?
Few quotes from Juraj Slafkovsky: I believe the eight-month break without games won't be noticed. I'm flying to Montreal at the beginning of the next week and I'll be training there. @ArponBasu @JFChaumontJDM @HabsOnReddit #GoHabsGo ????: @DennikSport 1/n pic.twitter.com/vXYYWw8bwW
— Tomáš Prokop (@Lewysko) July 27, 2023