Juraj Slafkovský’s teenage Canadiens record only scratches surface of his accomplishments



Slaf vs Seattle

You had to see Juraj Slafkovský in the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room in Vancouver last Thursday to fully understand the contrast.

Slafkovský was visibly annoyed that he had to answer questions about a thorough 4-1 beating at the hands of the Canucks, angry, even. There is no video of Slafkovský’s dressing room session with the media in Vancouver because it lasted roughly one minute, and before the cameras could get to him, he had already walked off in a huff.

Losing eats at this guy.

There was, however, video of Slafkovský’s media availability following the Canadiens’ 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Tuesday, and thankfully there was, because it caught a gem of a joke.

Slafkovský was asked about becoming the first teenager in Canadiens history to register 40 points in a season, something he did just before his 20th birthday coming up on Saturday.

“People are talking about it around me and stuff, I’m happy about it, but I just want to keep playing, keep getting wins,” he said. “I’d be much happier if we were going to the playoffs at the end of the year. That’s the main goal for me, to win something.

“Obviously it’s nice to get your own accomplishments, but I want to win something with this team, not on my own.”

The next question was how he saw the rest of the season going for him.

“Hopefully I can get another 20 points, I don’t know,” he said, and then he smiled. “No, I’m just kidding.”

That is good material.

Unfortunately, the Canadiens have not won nearly often enough for us to see this version of Slafkovský very frequently this season. But it’s not as if he hasn’t done his part.

Slafkovský’s assist on Nick Suzuki’s goal that tied the game in Denver nine seconds after the Avalanche had taken a 1-0 lead 43 seconds into the game extended his point streak to eight games. That matched a season-high eight-game point streak he had from Jan. 25-Feb. 17, over which time he registered 12 points. In between the two was an eight-game stretch where Slafkovský only had one point, a goal on Feb. 29 in Florida.

So that’s an eight-game point streak, followed by an eight-game slump, followed by another eight-game point streak, and counting. Over that 24-game span, Slafkovský has 22 points, nine goals and 13 assists, 10 of which are primary assists. So, in other words, 19 primary points in 24 games.

His 22 points over that span are tied for 55th in the NHL, which might not sound great, but look at the players he is tied with, prior to Wednesday night’s games.

Players with 22 points since Jan. 25

That’s not a bad group.

Slafkovský is impacting games in so many ways, maintaining possession in the offensive zone and playing sound defence, for the most part; there have been some brain cramps in front of his own net that have led to goals against. Again, he’s not quite 20 yet.

But the biggest thing has been his extraordinary playmaking, his ability to scan the ice, see where his teammates are, know where his opponents are and quickly calculate a way to get them the puck. The points he has put on the board could be much higher if more of the grade-A chances he has created found their way into the net.

Against the Avalanche alone, Slafkovský could have easily had two more assists.

There was this play in the final minute of the second period that begins with Slafkovský demonstrating his much improved board play, taking the puck to the front of the net before losing it, using his reach to whack the puck away from a Colorado defender around the boards to Suzuki, going to the net, and then finding Suzuki for an excellent scoring chance.

All in all, a decent microcosm of what’s made Slafkovský so effective over the second half of the season.

Then, in the first minute of the third period, Slafkovský begins by identifying the correct play to make, a cross-ice pass to Kaiden Guhle, but doesn’t execute the pass that well. Then he takes a shot from a scoring area and instead of blindly whacking at the puck again, which is what probably 90 percent of NHL players would do in this situation, Slafkovský finds Suzuki for a one-timer that gets blocked by Nathan MacKinnon.

Plays like those have been a regular occurrence, like this sequence in New Jersey on Jan. 17 where Slafkovský could have had an assist on two separate occasions.

What is more impressive than Slafkovský hitting the 40-point mark this season is his production over half a season’s worth of games. Since Dec. 21, Slafkovský has 32 points in 40 games after starting the season with eight points in 31 games, or an 82-game pace of roughly 65 points. Over that span, Slafkovský is top five on the team in expected goal share and shot share.

That is a solid sample of work.

It is difficult to imagine how this will impact Slafkovský entering training camp in the fall, but considering how fragile his confidence was last fall, this second half productivity can only help him further understand how his physical gifts and mind for the game can have an impact at the NHL level.

And if he attacks this offseason as aggressively as he did his last one, it would be unwise to put a cap on what Slafkovský can accomplish in his third NHL season.

(Photo of Juraj Slafkovský and Eeli Tolvanen: Alika Jenner / Getty Images)





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