Stu Cowan: Canadians would really like Juraj Slafkovsky

The 6-foot-4, 229-pound left winger can envision himself playing on a line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield if the Habs decide to draft him.

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Juraj Slafkovsky thinks he would be a good fit in the Canadiens’ No. 1 lineup with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.

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We’ll find out at Thursday’s NHL Draft at the Bell Center if Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes agrees. (7pm, SN, TVA Deportes).

Slafkovsky, a left wing, is one of three players Hughes said the Canadiens are considering taking with the first overall pick, along with centers Shane Wright and Logan Cooley.

The 6-foot-4, 229-pound Slafkovsky is the No. 1 European skater ranked by NHL Central Scouting, while the 6-foot-4, 199-pound Wright is ranked No. 1 among North Americans. Cooley, who is 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, is ranked No. 2 in North America.

There are many things I like about Slafkovsky, starting with his size. The 18-year-old had modest totals of 5-5-10 in 31 games this season with TPS Turku while playing men in the Finnish Elite League, but was highly impressive at both the Olympics and IIHF World Championships while playing for Slovakia. Slafkovsky was named Olympics MVP after scoring seven goals in seven games as Slovakia won a bronze medal, and went 3-6-9 in eight games at the world championships.

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Slafkovsky and the other top NHL Draft prospects participated in a youth clinic Wednesday morning at the Canadiens’ practice facility in Brossard and later met with the media at the Montreal Science Center in the Port. Old. At Brossard, Slafkovsky briefly met Suzuki.

“It was fun,” he said of meeting Suzuki. “I wanted to stand next to him so there would be something to write in the paper.”

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The size is not the only thing I like about Slafkovsky. He is also very confident, comfortable dealing with the media in English, and has a good sense of humor. He also looks like he could be a star in action movies.

This is only the second time Slafkovsky has been to Montreal, following a summer hockey camp he attended eight years ago.

“I like the city. It’s pretty big…bigger than where I’m from, and the traffic is pretty bad,” she said with a smile. “But I can deal with it.”

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Asked if he thinks the Canadiens will take him with the first pick, Slafkovsky said: “I don’t know. You have to ask them.

Slafkovsky is scheduled to meet with Canadiens management during the day on Thursday.

“At the end of the day, I think it doesn’t really matter,” he said of whether he gets picked first overall or not. “In the end, when I retire I want to be the best player in this draft.”

Hughes definitely has a tough decision to make with his first pick, but I’m still leaning toward Wright.

If the Canadiens don’t take Slafkovsky, it’s likely he’ll end up in New Jersey with the Devils as the No. 2 pick. Slafkovsky has already met with New Jersey management and spoken with former Canadien Tomas Tatar, a fellow Slovak who is now with the Devils and would love to have him as a teammate.

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Asked why the Canadiens should take him with the first pick, Slafkovsky said: “I can play with those two guys and I think it can be a pretty good line that can deliver results at the end of the day. I think that’s important for Montreal.”

Slavkovsky’s shares really increased after his performance at the Olympics and the world championship. TSN’s Bob McKenzie had him ahead of Wright in his final NHL draft rankings, five of the 10 scouts he surveyed had Slafkovsky at No. 1 and four chose Wright. Slafkovsky said that he gained more confidence from his performance at the two international events.

“It was quite a tough season for my team (in the Finnish Elite League),” he said. “So when I got there, I had more freedom. That felt good and my confidence went higher and higher, so that was very important to me. I think it was at the Olympics that I realized I could play on small ice and I could also score and create on smaller ice.”

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Slafkovsky said the best part of his game is puck protection, which can create space for his linemates and the offense. That would certainly help in a line with Suzuki and Caufield.

Like I said, Hughes has a tough decision to make. But Wright brings added value as a center who can play a 200-foot game and provide depth down the middle by moving along with Suzuki.

Slavkovsky is confident he’s ready to make the jump straight into the NHL with whatever team carries him, and that he could handle the added pressure that would come if he ends up in the Montreal spotlight and traffic.

I also didn’t expect to have trouble sleeping on Wednesday night.

“Actually, I’m pretty tired from traveling,” he said. “So everything is going pretty well and I can’t wait when I get to my room and go to sleep and then I wake up and there’s tomorrow.”

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