Montreal selected Juraj Slafkowski No. 1 in the NHL draft

MONTREAL – The Canadiens selected winger Juraj Slafkovski in the NHL draft Thursday night at their home arena, making him the first player from Slovakia to be taken No. 1 overall.

While Shane Wright, a Canadian centre, has long been considered the top pick up front, the Devils surprisingly selected Simon Nemec, a Slovakian defenseman and Slafkowski’s Olympic teammate, as the No. 2 pick after Wright went down.

In another surprise move, the Arizona Coyotes took Logan Cooley, a center out of the Pittsburgh area, with the third pick before Wright’s slide ended with the Seattle Kraken at No. 4.

Slafkowski, who was named Most Valuable Player at the Beijing Olympics for leading the tournament with seven goals in seven games, began to think he could go first overall after meeting with the Canadiens at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo in June.

“I felt like they were pretty interested,” said Slafkowski, who was confused when Montreal general manager Kent Hughes announced his name. “When I heard from ‘Slovakia’ I went ‘Wow!’

Slafkovski and Nemec became Slovakia’s highest-ranked players in 22 years since Marian Gaborik went third to the Minnesota Wild in 2000.

For the first time since 2009, the Canadiens did not host a draft. They traded 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov and a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Islanders for the 13th pick. They then traded that pick and the 66th pick to Chicago for young forward Kirby Dach.

It was the second step in Thursday’s trade to Chicago, which also traded winger Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators for Nos. 7 and 39 this year and a third-round pick in 2024. 41 goals last season.

The 6-foot-4 Slafkowski, who has drawn comparisons to Hockey Hall of Famer Clark Gillies and plays a bit like a young Jaromir Jagr, said he told the Canadiens Thursday morning to take him.

Slafkowski, who turned 18 in March, has been among the NHL’s most ready players: He played with the senior men in Finland last season and impressed at the Olympics. He was the youngest player in the tournament and the biggest reason Slovakia won Bronze, his first Olympic men’s hockey medal.

He could soon be playing alongside Canada’s best forwards, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, who scored 20-plus goals last season.

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, whose team selected forward Cutter Gauthier fifth overall, said Wednesday that he expected many trades in the draft. Other general managers did not wait for the bill to begin consideration.

The Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche began the transaction by acquiring goaltender Alexander Georgiev from the Rangers for a third- and fifth-round pick this draft and a third-round pick next year. Chicago then sent DeBrincat to Ottawa.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman opened the first draft since 2019 by saying “Bon soir, Montreal” in French. As fans gave him the traditional kiss, he said: “Thank you for the welcome. This is a return to normalcy.”

It was also the first time the home team selected No. 1 overall since the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Wendell Clark in 1985. Hosting rival Montreal, the Leafs received their loudest cheers during the title game, with some in the crowd chanting, “’67.” !” Last year, Toronto won the Stanley Cup.

A recent death in hockey was also recognized before the Canadiens ran out the clock. Bettman asked those at the draft and those in the stands to observe a moment of silence for retired linebacker Brian Marchment, who died at the age of 53 on Wednesday in Montreal, where he was attending the draft as a scout for the San Jose Sharks.

The sons of Hall of Famers Guy LaFlore and Mike Bossy, who both died in April, also addressed the crowd.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.