The Stanley Cup Final is now over. Congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche on their first Cup championship since 2001, but that now means the NHL offseason is officially underway. The NHL Draft is nine days from today, with the New Jersey Devils selecting second overall on July 7.
Last week, we took a look at Logan Cooley, the consensus second overall pick in public draft rankings. Today, we’ll be going over Juraj Slafkovsky, whose draft stock has skyrocketed over the last six months, putting him in contention for the second overall selection. His point totals may not indicate it, but there’s plenty of intriguing upside with the Slovak winger. Let’s look at why the Devils could choose him and what makes him an interesting prospect.
Slafkovsky’s Unique Makeup
Though Slafkovsky is Slovak, he’s come up through TPS’s system in the Liiga in Finland. He played in 31 games for their senior team, totaling 11 points, but also managed an impressive 18 points in 11 games for TPS’s U-20 team in the U-20 SM-sarja — Finland’s junior league. He was also a wrecking ball on the international stage, coming up with 39 points in 34 games between Slovakia’s senior and U-18 teams.
What makes Slafkovsky such an intriguing prospect is his rare combination of size and skill that not many forwards have in today’s NHL. At 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, he uses his frame very well to shield off defenders in one-on-one battles. That helps him keep puck possession to sustain offensive zone time. And, as you may have guessed, that makes it quite difficult to knock the puck off his stick.
Because Slafkovsky knows how to keep puck possession by using his frame well, it helps open up scoring chances for himself and his teammates. That is more of his bread and butter right now, but that’s not a bad thing. He doesn’t need to be an elite shooter to be a good player in the NHL, though he’s not a poor shooter and has goal-scoring potential.
One thing that might be surprising about Slafkovsky given he’s 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, is that he’s not a big hitter. He’s not looking to knock someone into row 20 of the lower bowl of an arena. That’s not his game, and that’s fine because he uses his size to create offense instead of laying punishing hits. His skating is also solid for someone of his size. He’ll never be a skater on Jack Hughes or Jesper Bratt’s level, but he doesn’t skate with cinderblocks attached to his ankles.
But though Slafkovksy has plenty of promise, there are questions about his NHL upside. Because of his size and the fact he plays in the Liiga, he does get compared to Mikko Rantanen quite a bit. Perhaps he gets to that level one day, but that’s a pretty optimistic outcome that I’m not sure he’ll reach. Valeri Nichushkin is probably a more reasonable comparison than Rantanen, but even he produced at a 33-goal, 69-point pace this season. He might be the upper tier of a projection for Slafkovsky.
The one NHLer I see quite a bit of in Slafkovsky is Jesse Puljujärvi. Both players use their frames well and are beasts in possession and one-on-one battles. I think Slafkovsky has more upside than Puljujärvi, but he would be the floor for Slafkovsky as far as a comparison goes; a very good player who can play in the top-six and keep possession but might not be an elite point producer.
Why the Devils Could Consider Slafkovsky
For the Devils, it’s easy to see why Slafkovsky would be an intriguing choice for them with the second pick. They don’t have a forward like him on their roster or in their pipeline. Most of their top-end players are a bit on the smaller side, so he would give them a different look whenever he’s ready for the NHL.
When looking at the Devils’ farm system, the wing is their best position heading into the 2022 draft. Their top prospects up front are Alexander Holtz, Arseni Gritsyuk, Nolan Foote, Fabian Zetterlund, Graeme Clarke and Tyce Thompson, all of whom project as wingers. In terms of giving them a different look, Foote would be the closest at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, but he doesn’t have Slafkovsky’s potential.
It’s also worth noting that Slafkovsky will be walking into a relatively good situation with the Devils. By the time he’s ready (it’s probably not as soon as next season), Hughes, Bratt and Nico Hischier will be in their primes, and the Devils should be in a better position to be playoff contenders than they are now. He’s probably the type of player that needs to be around good players to succeed, and there should be enough of those by the time he’s in New Jersey.
Plus, general manager Tom Fitzgerald spoke at his end-of-season press conference about wanting to add hard skill to the Devils’ lineup. Slafkovksy might not be that next season, but he does give them that type of winger long-term. He could be a complementary piece to Hughes or Hischier as Puljujärvi is to Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or Nichushkin to Nathan MacKinnon with the Avalanche.
What Others Are Saying About Slafkovsky
“Slafkovsky can be a menace at the NHL level. His stick-handling reach and his play on the cycle makes him a threat down low. If he can broaden his game by working on his long-range shot, that allows him to become a dual threat. But, even if he doesn’t become that dual threat offensively, he has the physicality and the reach to net pucks in puck battles and set up teammates in the slot. With that said, I can envision him being a top six contributor at the NHL level.” – Josh Tessler, Smaht Hockey.
“The ceiling for Slafkovsky is incredibly high. With his size and strength, he has the potential to turn into an elite power forward at the NHL level and become a mainstay in an organization’s top six. There are some small holes in his game, but nothing that can’t be fixed with experience and maturity, but all the tools are there to work with.” – Andrew Forbes, The Hockey Writers.
“His physique alone commands presence. His production from the Olympics on has given him a chance to be the first player off the board.” –Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet.
Cosentino also described Slafkovsky as someone who goes to the net and works along the boards. He’s a sound skater with good hockey IQ who has top-six upside.
Drafting Slafkovsky to Complement Hughes & Hischier?
Cooley may be the better choice at second overall based on upside, but it’d be hard to fault the Devils for drafting Slafkovsky. He’s a rare prospect that doesn’t come around every draft, especially one who should be a top-three or -five pick. And while most public rankings have Cooley ahead of Slafkovsky, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some NHL teams have it the other way around. That’s not to say the Devils think that way, but picking Slafkovsky is certainly far from egregious.
In selecting Slafkovsky, the Devils improve an already impressive prospect pool by adding something they don’t have much of among their forwards. Instead of going for the Pittsburgh Penguins model by drafting Cooley to give them a 1-2-3 punch down the middle as the Penguins had with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal, they get someone who should be a valuable complementary piece alongside Hughes or Hischier. And even if Slafkovsky doesn’t turn into an elite point scorer, he’ll still likely be a very solid top-six winger.
Juraj Slafkovsky Video
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017