Juraj Slafkovský: 'He's better when you let him breathe'

Juraj Slafkovský: < /p> UPDATE DAY

MONTREAL | “With our No. 1 pick, the No. 1 pick of the 2022 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens are proud to draft from the Slovakia National Team and Turku TPS, Juraj Slafkovský.  

Chapter 1

Ramsay's Pride

There was nothing trivial about this presentation by Kent Hughes for the top of the class in the repechage in Montreal. The general manager of CH presented his jewel as a product of the Slovak formation before identifying it by his main team in Finland. 

Hughes thus deviated from a usual rule. But Slafkovský charmed the management of the Habs in the jersey of Slovakia during the Beijing Olympics and the World Championship in Finland. He shone on big stages playing against men. 

Craig Ramsay had a front row seat to see the evolution of the future first draft pick. The 71-year-old has led Slovakia in major international tournaments since 2017-2018. 

Craig Ramsay behind the bench for Slovakia at the World Hockey Championship.

In Ramsay's eyes, Slafkovský will make his North American debut in a Canadiens uniform and not with the Laval Rocket in the American League. 

“I imagine him in the NHL, a Ramsay replied in a telephone interview with the Journal. This is where I would like to use it. He is quite big and strong and he skates well. In addition, the Canadian finds himself in a reconstruction. They will be able to be patient with the young and develop them well.” 

“He has already played against men at the Olympics and at the World Cup,” he continued. He has that experience. I also believe that Simon Nemec can make the jump to the NHL this year with the Devils.”

Slafkovský in the colors of his country at the World Championship.

A good teacher

In Montreal, Slafkovský would find himself under the guidance of a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Martin St -Louis. In another era, Ramsay also coached St. Louis in an alternate role with the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

“I think he will arrive in Montreal at a good time, replied the native of Ontario. The CH relies on a good coach in Martin St-Louis. Marty will help him a lot, he knows what it takes to be a dominant player in the NHL. He will give her time. I believe Marty will let him have his freedom and he will let him flourish.”

“Juraj will make mistakes, but Marty will correct them with him. They will work together. He won't try to stop him. A coach must live with mistakes and work to correct them. I never yelled at Juraj from behind the bench. I told him when he made a mistake, I did it with a certain gentleness and in a positive way.”

Juraj Slafkovský at the CH development camp in July.

A contagious smile

In Ramsay's eyes, the 6'3″, 227lb winger has the personality to survive the pot of Montreal. 

“He is going to like it, he wants to be the one who makes the difference. He wants to play a big role. Yes, Montreal is a tough market, but it's not the NHL's only big market. A city like Philadelphia can also be brutal. There are markets that probably would have been easier for him. It's true.” 

“He has a lot of talent, but also a great personality. You want to surround yourself with players like him. He always smiles, he remains positive, but he also listens to your recommendations. He wants to learn and he's not afraid to make adjustments in his game.” 

Chapter 2

A long discussion with Vincent Lecavalier

Vincent Lecavalier, special advisor to hockey operations at the CH.

Craig Ramsay simply explains Juraj Slafkovský's frenzied production under him with the Slovakia team and his more modest output with Turku's TPS in the Liiga. 

“I had told the Canadiens and the Devils not to draft Slavy or Nemec if they wanted to put them in a box. They need to bet on their creativity.” 

Before the draft, Ramsay had long conversations with another of his former players and now a member of the Canadiens' hockey management, Vincent Lecavalier. 

“I spoke to Vinny. He called me twice. Once shortly after the lottery and a week before the draft. We had talked for nearly 45 minutes both times. He was extracting all possible information about Slafkovský and Nemec. He asked me several questions, but he was mainly trying to understand the difference in Slafkovský's game with the Slovakian team and his team in Finland. The Devils also spoke to me about the same subject.” 

“I answered the same thing. Yes, Juraj was playing better on the international stage than in the Liiga. My explanation was quite simple. I let him play, I allowed him to express himself. I wanted him to stay aggressive, to skate, to be good at forechecking and he liked that. In Finland, he was told to play the trap, to fall back, to cut passes for a counter-attack. He's better when you let him breathe. And he'll return the favor by working really hard.” Slafkovský won his country's MVP award this year.

SEVEN IN SEVEN

At the Beijing Olympics, Slafkovský had scored seven goals in seven games. A few weeks later at the World Championship in Finland, he continued his momentum with nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in eight games with Slovakia. These are much more impressive numbers than his ten points (5 goals, 5 assists) in 31 games in Turku. 

GREAT PRIDE

< p>On July 7, Ramsay did not make the trip to Montreal for the draft. He followed him from his home in Florida to Tampa. He was a happy man to see Slovakia write a page in its history with the first two selections. But he becomes a bit shy when he shares an anecdote about this great evening.

“I suspected Juraj was going to come out 1 or 2. I knew there was a chance for the top, but the Devils liked him a lot too. I hate to admit it, but I was in Florida for draft night. For some reason that still eludes me today, I got the date wrong. The first round usually happens on a Friday, but it was a Thursday in Montreal. I got a text from my son telling me that Slavy was top of the class.”

“At home, I asked for the television to be turned on at the draft. By the time we found the job, Nemec had just finished second with the Devils. I couldn't be happier. I was surprised, but proud. I like the guys and I have a lot of respect for this small country, Slovakia. We won bronze in Beijing and we had the first two picks in a repechage and three guys in the first round, counting Filip Mesar still with CH.”

“After the first round, I had told my wife that I needed to go out for a walk and that I was probably to cry with joy. I thought it was a great gift for me, but especially for young people and for Slovakia.”

Before being chosen first in the draft, Slafkovský signed several Canadian jerseys on the red carpet.

Chapter 3

The Olympics Without Pressure

Juraj Slafkovský wore the colors of Slovakia at the World Championship for the first time at the age of 17. It was in Riga, Latvia. And it was also with Craig Ramsay behind the bench. 

In that first experience, Slafkovský hadn't written his name on the scoresheet in six games. 

< p>“He had played well at the World Cup at 17, but he just hadn't scored a goal,” Ramsay recalled. 

A year later, Slafkovský scored several goals. He was Slovakia's attacking powerhouse in their Beijing Olympics bronze medal win. 

Slafkovský helped Slovakia win the bronze medal with seven goals in the Beijing Olympics.

“Yes, I was impressed. I remember talking to him one morning. There was pressure on our players, for our country. We wanted to have a good tournament. I asked him how he found it and how he coped with the expectations. He said to me with a smile: “Are you kidding? That's great!” »

“In the early games of the tournament, I had used it to kill a penalty. It was not his role, but I had trusted him. When he came back to the bench, I wanted to rest him a bit. But he looked at me and I understood that he wanted to get back on the ice immediately. He didn't skip a turn. He became a leader for our team. He played with heart and the guys wanted to play with him. The big names in the team came to see me and asked me to have Slavy as a winger. 

With the absence of the NHL players at the Olympics, Slafkovský finished the tournament with seven goals in seven meetings. He walked away with a bronze medal and the tournament's Most Valuable Player award. Not bad for a young man who was still 17 at the time.

Ramsay compares him to…Clark Gillies

Juraj Slafkovský:

AFP Former New York Islanders forward Clark Gillies. Former New York Islanders forward Clark Gillies.

Juraj Slafkovský will become Juraj Slafkovsky in the NHL. He will create his own identity under the colors of the Canadian. But when asked the classic question of comparing him to an NHL player, Craig Ramsay steps back in time. This is the name that echoed in my head the first time I saw Juraj on an ice cream. Like Clark, Juraj is a physically imposing forward and skates well. He doesn't need to fight, but he can be tough like Gillies was. Another important thing, Slavy is a very good team guy, just like Gillies. In his time, he formed one of the best trios in history with Trottier and Bossy.”