Alain Chainey, former director of fan recruiting for the Anaheim Ducks, likes to get input from his former colleagues as each draft approaches.
This year he noticed something curious when he mentioned the name of the Slovak Juraj Slafkovsky.
“When he was asking questions left and right and interested in his case, there was a little moment of silence, says the brilliant hockey player. There was a moment of reflection that made me say, ‘Wow, I just struck a chord.
During his successful career of more than 20 years as a head scout and head scout, Chainey never had the privilege of drafting the first choice at auction. TVASports.ca allowed him to do so: the former scout lent himself to the game by making the much-anticipated selection for the Montreal Canadiens.
“I watched the five vintage headliners very closely in the video: Shane Wright, Slafkovsky, Logan Cooley, Simon Nemec, and David Jiricek. When you watch a player on video, there are things you can miss, like his defensive play and his body language when he gets to the bench because the camera always follows the puck carrier.
However, the TVA Sports analyst has seen enough to get on the podium. With the first overall selection, Alain Chainey is proud to select…
“Slafkovsky. He is the guy who struck me the most in all of this. And I disagree with those who say that Shane Wright is just good, nothing more. He is an excellent player who is going to have a long and successful career, but I saw something else in Slafkovsky.
What attracted our man was that element of rarity: How many talented 6-foot-4 power forwards are there in the National Hockey League? The specimen is one of a kind.
“What I see in Slafkovsky is an upside-down, a potential, a truly impressive growth development, amazes Chainey, who sees in him a more imposing version of Andrei Svechnikov. He needs to improve his explosion on skates a bit, but his top speed is very good. He is not a slow skater. He has good hands and a very good shot. He is a physically committed guy. A player who protects his puck very, very well. He has a long stick and he uses it very well.
“It is difficult to contain yourself in the corners of the track, along the ramps. It’s a rare combination, ultimately, of size, speed, skill, and physical involvement. He’s not the kind of player you find very often…”
Another factor is taken into consideration in the evaluation: Slafkovsky’s performances against men, during international tournaments, even if the caliber in the Olympics and the World Hockey Championships is not the highest, because the best players in the world are not necessarily there.
Before even celebrating his 18th birthday, Slafkovsky was named the Olympic tournament MVP after scoring seven goals in as many games. He returned to the World Championship by accumulating nine points, including three goals, in eight games. In the history of this tournament, Patrik Laine is the only player under the age of 18 who has been more productive.
And Chainey isn’t too alarmed by Slafkovsky’s disappointing production in the Liiga (5 goals, 5 assists in 31 games), Finland’s premier circuit.
“It doesn’t scare me. I’ve already seen excellent players at the back of the bench in Europe’s elite leagues. These are things that happen.”
The other red flag frequently raised by less keen observers of Slafkovsky’s game has to do with his sense of the game, more specifically his creativity with the puck.
“I don’t see a big problem with that,” Chainey replied. Sure he is not the most creative player with the puck, with the best vision. On the other hand, he can make good games with it. He’s not as creative as Logan Cooley, who’s very dynamic, or Shane Wright, who’s a great passer who can slow down the game, it’s not necessarily his style. But he can’t be perfect everywhere. Slafkovsky, it’s not necessarily his strength, his creativity with the record, but I can’t say he’s fictional either. He is capable of making good plays.
“He gets to the corners and we see him a lot of times getting the puck out to the opposing players, getting the puck moving, and giving a good pass to his teammate. now is the cunning with the puck and makes fantastic plays like Nick Suzuki? It does not compare. It’s not his style at all. But in a hockey club, you need all kinds of players.
In Defense of Wright
Although he prefers the power wing of the draft, Chainey doesn’t want to get caught up in some of the smear campaigns against Wright being played out on social media.
If some quidams on the Internet maliciously take pleasure in denigrating the young man’s character, other more reasonable detractors are content to reproach him for his lack of intensity, while acknowledging his offensive qualities.
However, the lingering doubts about Wright’s level of effort and commitment may have something to do with the fact that he has been closely watched for years.
“There are players who seem carefree [sans forcément l’être]Chainey mentions. It’s in the way they move, in the way they act. The mistake many scouts make when they watch a player too often is to end up seeing only their flaws.
But Wright should not be seen as the savior that several class leaders have become before him.
“Is he going to be a star player? That may not be the case with Shane Wright. People say: “Maybe a second or a first central player.” But listen, he has a good sense of the game, a very good shot and he still places well.
By the way, all National League teams, even the ones that aren’t supposed to draft in the first round, build an A-Z roster starting at number one overall. This means that the 32 teams on the Bettman Circuit will be asking themselves, in the coming days, the question that the Canadians will have to answer: Shane Wright or Juraj Slafkovsky?
“Ideally, the CH would manage to make a transaction to have the election of the New Jersey Devils, Chainey launches. I’d offer the moon for that! Okay, Jeff Petry, Flames pick, two second-round picks, do you want them? Are here! Do you want another player? We’ll give it to you!”
For the curious, here’s how Chainey ranks, in order, the five headliners he’s watched closely in his viewings: Slafkovsky, Wright, Cooley, Nemec, Jiricek.
Our expert prefers Nemec over Jiricek among the defenders.
“I find it more complete compared to what he does without the record and with the record. He is an excellent passer, he withstands the attack well. He is very calm with the puck. He makes good decisions; that’s what I liked about Nemec. But the other defender is also dynamic. I wouldn’t be surprised if people got Jiricek before Nemec.”
Be that as it may, don’t be too rigid and don’t overly rely on the various lists available to the general public. Every year there are surprises…
“Team rosters are different than what you see on the internet. It’s day and night, frankly,” warns Chainey.
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