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Juraj Slafkovský is the Best Player in the 2022 NHL Draft

Hockey article at Knup Sports

Canadian forward Shane Wright has long been considered the obvious top pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. But could the Montreal Canadiens select Slovakian Juraj Slafkovský?

The 2022 National Hockey League (NHL) Draft will take place on July 7 and 8 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec. The Montreal Canadiens, despite reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2021, won the draft lottery and hold the first pick following a historically abysmal season. It’s the first time the host has the first overall selection since 1985.

For several years, it was believed Shane Wright would be the first player taken in the 2022 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old Canadian from Burlington, Ontario was on teams’ radar before even playing in the Canadian Hockey League, but proved himself worthy of his high-profile status during the past two seasons.

Wright recorded 66 points in 58 games as a 15-year-old with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and followed that up with 94 points in 63 games in 2021-22. He didn’t play in 2020-21 as the OHL suspended operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright hasn’t done much to hurt his draft stock, but a threat to his top spot has emerged: Slovakian phenom Juraj Slafkovský.

Slafkovský Already Excelling Against Older Competition

While it’s anybody’s guess as to how Wright’s game translates against much bigger and more physical NHL players, Slafkovský already has the benefit of playing against such competition. The left winger, who just turned 18 on March 30 and is among the youngest players in the draft, recorded 10 points in 31 games while playing limited ice time with TPS in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland.

Slafkovský looked even more comfortable and took on more responsibility in the playoffs, recording seven points in 18 games en route to a runner-up finish in playoff competition. Slafkovský also had 18 points in 11 games with TPS’ under-20 team and had prior success in leagues in Czech Republic, Denmark, and his native Slovakia.

Slafkovský has played all over Europe and carries himself with the presence and maturity of a seasoned veteran. Central Scouting chief Don Marr noted he and Wright are the two prospects most ready for the NHL, while Slafkovský himself has said he feels he’s the best player in the draft.

Olympic Games MVP

NHL players didn’t participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games, but that doesn’t take away from Slafkovský’s performance as a 17-year-old. He led all players with seven goals in the tournament and carried Slovakia to a bronze medal. He was named to the Olympic All-Star Team and earned tournament MVP.

Slafkovský’s performance at the Olympics opened the door for teams, including the Canadiens, to consider him as the first overall pick in the draft. However, that’s not the only international success he had.

Slafkovský also represented Slovakia in under-18 competition (11 points in six games), played two games in the U-20 World Junior Championships before it was cancelled, and recorded nine points in eight games at the World Championships in May. He led all under-20 players in points at the World Championships, which included NHL players, and was selected as a Top 3 player on Slovakia.

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