Our 2022 NHL Draft prospect profile series continues today with a look at one of the most exciting prospects in this year’s draft, Juraj Slafkovsky. This is a player that combines the size of a power forward with the skill and finesse of an offensive star. He is a legitimate option for the New Jersey Devils with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. This profile will take a look at the Slovakian left wing to see why he’s so highly touted.
Who is Juraj Slafkovsky?
According to his Elite Prospects profile, Juraj Slafkovsky is a 6’4”, 218 lbs. natural left wing from Kosice, Slovakia. He was born on March 30, 2004, thus making this past season his age 17 year. He played his youth and junior hockey with HC Kosice before moving on to the Red Bull Hockey Academy in Austria, then Mountfield HK in Czechia, and finally to TPS in Finland. Let’s take a look at what he’s done so far in his career:
The 2017-18 season was his age 13 year and he split it between the U16 and U18 teams for HC Kosice. He impressed with the U16 team with 30 goals and 24 assists for 54 points in 23 games. That was enough to lead the team in goals and finish 3rd in points. Across all players in the league, he ranked tied-3rd in goals and 6th in points. Among players that played at least 20 games, his 2.35 points per game rate ranked 2nd in the league.
Slafkovsky also impressed with the U18 team as he put up 9 goals and 5 assists for 14 points in 18 games. He was one of two r-olds to play in the U18 league that season with the other being RD Simon Nemec who had 5 goals and 16 assists for 21 points in 44 games.
The 2018-19 season, his age 14 year, saw Slafkovsky split his time between the Red Bull Academy in Austria and Mountfield HK in Czechia. With the Red Bull U18 team, he had 4 goals and 13 assists for 17 points in 11 games. He finished 5th in points among U15 players and his 1.55 points per game rate ranked 4th.
He spent the bulk of his season playing junior hockey with the Mountfield HK U16 team. Slafkovsky posted 19 goals and 23 assists for 42 points in 22 regular season games. He was excellent in the playoffs with 5 goals and 9 assists for 14 points in 7 games. Those 42 points in the regular season were enough for him to finish 3rd on the team in scoring. His 1.91 points per game rate ranked tied-9th among all players that played in at least 20 games. Slafkovsky also earned 3 games with the U19 team in which he posted 2 assists. He was the only U15 player to play in the U19 league that season. That year also saw him represent Slovakia’s U16 team where he served as an alternate captain and had 5 goals and 6 assists for 11 points in 13 games.
The 2019-20 season, his age 15 year, saw him move to TPS in Finland to take another step up in competition. He played in 2 games for the U16 team with a goal and 2 assists. He also earned 4 games with the U20 team where he had 3 assists. He was one of two U16 skaters to play in the U20 league that season.
He spent most of the season with the U18 team and excelled with 22 goals and 30 assists for 52 points in 39 games. He led the U18 team in goals and points. Among all players in the league, he finished 14th in goals and tied-10th in points. His 1.33 points per game rate ranked 10th among players that played in at least 20 games. It’s worth mentioning that he led all U16 players in that league in goals, assists, points, and points per game. That 1.33 points per game rate ranks as the 7th best all-time among U16 players in the U18 league (minimum 30 games played). Slafkovsky also represented Slovakia at the U16, U17, and U18 levels that season with solid production.
His pre-draft season of 2020-21 saw him move up to the U20 level for TPS. He posted 8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points in 16 games. Among U17 players that played in at least 15 games, his 0.81 points per game rate ranked 2nd to Joakim Kemell’s 0.95. Slafkovsky represented Slovakia at the U20 and senior levels that season. He was held without a point in 5 games at the U20 World Junior Championship. Slafkovsky was one of four U17 players to play in that tournament. He was also held without a point in 6 games at the World Championships as he made his debut for Slovakia at the top level. He was one of two U17 players in that tournament.
His draft season of 2021-22 would see Slafkovsky rise up the rankings as he made his debut in Finland’s top flight, Liiga, and impressed for Slovakia at the Olympics and World Championships. With TPS he played in 11 U20 games where he posted 6 goals and 12 assists for 18 points. With TPS in Liiga, Slafkovsky had 5 goals and 5 assists in 10 games. He finished 2nd to Kemell among U18 players in Liiga in goals, assists, points, and points per game (0.32). He produced more in the playoffs with 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points in 18 games as he helped his team to a Silver Medal in Liiga. That was solid production but what made him stand out was his performances on the international stage.
He announced himself on the international stage with 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points in 5 games for Slovakia U18 at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. That helped Slovakia capture a Silver Medal in the tournament. He finished tied-4th in points for the tournament. He was also a member of Slovakia’s U20 team at the ill-fated U20 WJC.
What made Slafkovsky a household name in the hockey world was his performance at the Olympics. He had 7 goals in 7 games as Slovakia earned a Bronze Medal. He was named to the Olympic All-Star Team, had the most goals and points in the tournament, and was named the Most Valuable Player.
He continued that strong form into more production for Slovakia at the World Championships. He had 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points in 8 games. Those 9 points were enough to lead the team in scoring, including 3 more points than current New Jersey Devil, Tomas Tatar. He had the most points among all U18 and U20 players in the tournament and was named a Top 3 Player on Team for Slovakia.
Slafkovsky is currently under contract through the 2022-23 season with TPS. Should he not make the jump right to the NHL then I expect to see him back with TPS for one more season before coming over to North America. He upped his game at the biggest stages last season, for TPS in the playoffs and Slovakia at the Olympics and World Championships. It seems he’s poised for a big breakout campaign in Liiga next year. Now, that’s enough about what he’s done in his career to date, let’s take a look at where he is ranked and what scouts have to say about his game.
Where is Juraj Slafkovsky Ranked?
As you can see from the rankings below, Slafkovsky is seen as a top 5 prospect for the most part. The debate comes as to where he belongs in that top 5.
- #1 European Skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)
- #5 - Elite Prospects (May Ranking)
- #3 - Elite Prospects Consolidated Rankings (Most Recent Ranking)
- #3 - Hockey Prospect (March Ranking)
- #5 - TSN - Bob McKenzie (Mid-season Ranking)
- #4 - TSN - Craig Button (May Ranking)
- #4 - FC Hockey (Spring Ranking)
- #7 - McKeen’s Hockey (Mid-season Ranking)
- #3 - Sportsnet (April Ranking)
- #4 - Draft Prospects Hockey (Spring Ranking)
- #4 - Dobber Prospects (April Ranking)
- #4 - Smaht Scouting (Final Ranking)
- #5 - Scouching (April Ranking)
- #1 - The Athletic - Corey Pronman (May Ranking - $)
- #5 - The Athletic - Scott Wheeler (June Ranking - $)
What Others Say About Juraj Slafkovsky
The first report on Slafkovsky comes from Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports. He breaks down Slafkovsky’s game by skating, offense, and defense, and then offers a projection. Regarding Slafkovsky’s skating:
He needs to work on his first few steps and his acceleration. However, once he gets moving, his top-end speed is good...His agility and edgework need a little bit of work as well.
One area that which Slafkovsky excels is with his balance and power. He is very hard to knock off the puck and can fight through checks and get to the net.
In regards to his offensive game:
Slafkovsky is a very good stick-handler and uses his long reach and big body to protect the puck down low in the cycle game. When he gets the opportunity, he can take the puck to the front of the net and finish in tight to the goal with his soft hands. He also has a very good shot.
Slafkovsky forechecks effectively, forcing opposing defenders to move the puck quickly which often leads to turnovers. He is also good at winning the puck on the boards. Slafkovsky is also a good passer.
In regards to his defensive game:
His long stick is very good at cutting down passing lanes. He is also strong on the boards and helps to contain the cycle down low. He needs to work on his awareness and positioning though.
In regards to his projection and comparison:
He has the type of power forward game that nearly every team is looking for though and his potential is sky high. Slafkovsky’s game is reminiscent of Jesse Puljujarvi at times.
Overall, it seems that Slafkovsky is a player built like a power forward but has the skill and finesse of a typical top 6 wing. I’m not surprised to read that his skating needs more work given his large frame but that’s at least something he can focus on developing over the next few years. I find his stickhandling in the offensive zone and active stick in the defensive zone to be encouraging assets to his game.
Back in December, Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst posted this scouting report on Slafkovsky. In regards to Slafkovsky’s skating and stickhandling:
Slafkovsky is an upright skater with average speed and occasional straight-line bursts that create separation. His attributes from a mobility standpoint are his quick feet, exceptional balance, and strong edgework both inside and out.
Any criticism of Slafkovky’s skating must be contextualized since his stickhandling, puck control, decision making, hands, and balance are already at an elite level, and he still creates time and space for himself.
In regards to Slafkovsky’s shooting, passing, and playmaking:
He can create his own shot, unleash a deadly backhander to roof pucks from in tight, and jam the net-front area for deflection or rebounds. Slafkovsky also isn’t shy towards using the slapper and he will pick the corners from sharp angles as low as the goal line.
There’s artistry in his deliveries, and Slafkovsky’s short-distance passing game, specifically in traffic, is as close to all-star caliber as you’ll find. The quickness of his hands and the buttery-soft touch he displays make him the perfect option to entrust with zone entries and drive the possession thereafter.
In regards to Slafkovsky’s defense and physicality:
Always willing to deliver a hit while pressuring the puck, Slafkovsky is an attentive forechecker who feverishly shoulder-checks while on the backskate all while keeping his stick blade fixed on the ice to block likely passing lanes...He works hard both on and off the puck, and his reach can be a real difference maker.
In regards to Slafkovsky’s hockey sense and projection:
He has exceptional on-ice awareness and usually limits his risk taking to situations in the offensive end. Even at such a young age, Slafkovsky has earned the trust of coaching staffs at multiple levels.
High-scoring top-line winger
This report seems to rate Slafkovsky’s edgework a bit higher than the previous one. It does seem to back up that his offensive skills and stickhandling are positive attributes to his game. It’s not surprising to see another high-end projection for Slafkovsky.
Back in January, Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting posted this report on Slafkovsky. He first breaks down Slafkovsky’s offensive game. Tessler starts by noting that Slafkovsky can effectively use his large frame and strength:
Where Slafkovsky shines the most is on the forecheck. He implements heavy pressure on the forecheck and does a good job staying toe to toe with the puck carrier...Not only does Slafkovsky keep quality pace, but he will throw his weight in the corners and behind the red line on the forecheck.
Tessler then makes note of Slafkovsky’s stick-handling:
Slafkovsky does an excellent job of securing the puck with his reach. Often you will see he uses his non-dominant hand (right hand) to secure the puck out wide and then cradle it back towards his body. That allows him to net possession but then bring the puck close to him to truly secure possession. His reachability also allows him to extend the puck further out away from an attacker at open ice and along the boards.
Then moving on to Slafkovsky’s shot:
When you analyze Slafkovsky’s shot, you notice that he takes more of his shots from down low and in tight. He generates scoring chances and capitalizes down low.
When shooting from range, he isn’t as dominant as he is at net front. He will struggle with shot accuracy from range and that has a lot to do with the shot mechanics. Slafkovsky needs to work on weight transfer.
When it comes to the defensive game, Tessler notes that Slafkovsky’s reach is a real asset:
He has excellent reach that allows him to use active stick by extending his stick blade out to cut down passing lanes. You will also see him use his long reach to try to shut down attacker puck movement.
In regards to his positioning:
At the point, when facing an impending attacking zone entry, he looks to lower and widen his body at the defensive zone blue line to take up as much space as possible and trap puck carrying attackers at the point.
When defending against the attack once they have moved the puck from point inwards, Slafkovsky does a good job of exerting pressure and implementing good gap control to keep the attacker in low danger. He patrols the boards well.
In regards to Slafkovsky’s transitional play:
When playing in the Liiga, Slafkovsky doesn’t like to carry the puck through the neutral zone instead he would prefer to pass before entering into the neutral zone. His crossovers limit his speed and that might make him slightly more reluctant to try moving the puck himself throughout the neutral zone. When playing U20 hockey, he seems to be more open when moving the puck from zone to zone.
In regards to Slafkovsky’s skating:
He can generate solid speed when implementing his standard skate extensions. His ankle flexion allows him to generate that speed. To ensure that you can skate up the ice and net acceleration, you need quality ankle flexion and knee placement. Slafkovsky’s knees align with the toes of his skates. The skate extensions allow him to keep good pace with the attack and his teammates.
In regards to Slafkovsky’s projection:
I can envision him being a top six contributor at the NHL level.
Next, here is what Eetu Siltanen of Dobber Prospects had to say about Slafkovsky last month:
Slafkovsky finished his very strong season in Men’s Worlds with a great performance, finishing 3 goals and 6 assists in 8 games. His biggest strengths, puck control and protecting were on display and he was able to execute amazing skill moves. While Slafkovsky was already considered a high pick, this showing definitely made him a biggest challenger for Shane Wright. If you ask me, I even see Slafkovsky having a higher ceiling than Wright.
Now let’s take a quick look at what two projection models think of Slafkovsky:
The Hockey Prospecting model isn’t as high on Slafkovsky as a lot of the scouting community. A lot of this has to do with his solid but unspectacular league production for TPS in Liiga. Of course, it’s worth noting that he played on a very strong, deep TPS team that went to the championship final. I don’t doubt that if he played in a junior league or a lesser men’s league, as the focal point of the offense, his production would’ve been higher and raised his NHLe thus raising his stock in the model.
Here’s what the Top Down Hockey model thinks of Slafkovsky:
As you can see, it also doesn’t rate him highly for similar reasons. It will be interesting to see how Slafkovsky develops. Models are useful but do have their limitations and I think Slafkovsky is a prime candidate to outperform what these models think about his future.
A Little Video
The first video comes from Elite Prospects and features a breakdown of his game film. The focus is on Slafkovsky’s power game, featuring his handling skills, physical skills, inside drives, and net-front game:
The next video comes from NHL Draft Pros which includes highlights and statistical analysis:
An Opinion of Sorts
I view Juraj Slafkovsky as one of the top prospects in this year’s class and think it would be a great move if the Devils were to select him 2nd overall. He has the size of a power forward at 6’4”, 218 lbs. with the soft hands and finesse of a dynamic top line wing that makes him a real threat. A case could be made that he’s the most projectable prospect in this year’s class and could end up being the best player to come out of it. I also think it’s worth noting that he’s shown the ability to play for one of the top teams in Liiga as a 17-year-old and hold his own against men. He’s also starred on the international stage at both the junior and men’s levels.
When it comes to his game, I value his ability to control the puck to make plays whether that’s in tight with defenders on him or in space with room to work. The way he can use his long reach to control the puck to avoid defenders and then pull it back without losing it is a real asset. This also allows him to retain possession for his team and help set up his teammates for scoring chances or continue possession on a cycle. He’s shown the ability to score in a multitude of ways whether that’s with his wrist shot, net-front with a deflection or rebound, or with a one-timer on the PP. Defensively, I like that he uses his long reach and active stick to disrupt play. He competes hard and is not reluctant to get involved physically on the boards which aren’t always something you see from a star player with a lot of offensive talent.
Certain areas of his game such as positioning, scanning the ice, and skating need work but those are all areas that can be improved with coaching and experience as he develops. Maybe he’s more of a risk than a Shane Wright or Logan Cooley but the potential to be a dynamic, power forward with skill is off the charts for Slafkovsky. It will be interesting to see where he gets drafted in the top 5 of this year’s class.
What are your thoughts on Juraj Slafkovsky? Where would you rank him among this year’s draft eligibles? Would he be your first choice for New Jersey at #2? What are your expectations for him going forward? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!