It’s already daunting enough to be billed as the future of the Montreal Canadiens, and the early goings won’t get any easier for Juraj Slafkovsky after an honest appraisal from his front office.
Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes provided some blunt criticism of Slafkovsky’s game Thursday after two preseason games.
"I thought his two exhibition games were a little underwhelming for him, but the two rookie games in Buffalo he was great," Hughes said during an appearance on Thursday's "Ray and Dregs Podcast.
"The two scrimmages here with our team, I think he led all our players in scoring chances by a pretty decent margin. So he's been very good in parts, there's obviously some inconsistency on how that translates into exhibition games."
Slafkovsky hasn’t registered a point in two preseason contests and hasn’t meaningfully drove play for the Canadiens. Making large-scale declarations over a tiny sample size is a fool’s errand, but Hughes’ unprompted comments provide a larger scope for evaluation.
Selected first overall by the Canadiens in the 2022 NHL Draft in a decision that surprised many analysts and prognosticators, Slafkovsky is arguably the centrepiece of Montreal’s retooling efforts. The weight of expectations are already embedded with the role, as the league’s most passionate fan base will have all eyes on him.
Hughes even hinted at the idea that Slafkovsky may not be on Montreal’s opening night roster.
“We’ve got to do what’s right for him," Hughes said. "If we do what we said when we drafted him – we weren’t looking for the best 18-year-old, we were looking for the best NHL player down the road – and I don’t think we do that without making the best decision for him. Whether it’s the popular decision or not, we’re going to do what we believe is right.”
Slafkovksy is eligible to play in AHL games and isn’t subject to the same rules as Canadian major junior players looking to crack an NHL roster. It provides the Canadiens with further roster flexibility, although you have to imagine the 18-year-old power forward will get an extended look before the team has to make a decision on burning a year on his entry-level contract.
It’s way too early to make a definitive conclusion on Slafkovsky, but the 2022 first-overall pick will have to step his game up in order to make an immediate dent on the Canadiens’ roster ahead of the Oct. 12 season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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