The Montreal Canadiens have selected Juraj Slafkovsky with the first-overall pick of the 2022 NHL Draft.
After months, if not years, of speculation surrounding Canadian centreman Shane Wright and the expectation that it would be his name called first when this day arrived, a sterling 2022 showing from Slafkovsky pushed the eventual No. 1 past the Kingston Frontenacs captain and into the top spot.
It was at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games that Slafkovsky truly forced his name into the conversation.
Amid a wild 2021-22 campaign in which he battled his way to the Liiga final with Finnish side TPS Turku, the 2022 Games in Beijing saw Slafkovsky hit another level, the big-bodied winger finishing the tournament as its leading goal-scorer, its leading overall scorer and its MVP. The dominant performance helped deliver his native Slovakia its first-ever Olympic ice hockey medal, as they finished with a bronze.
Now, Slafkovsky has made history once again, becoming the first Slovakian player to ever be selected first-overall at the NHL Draft.
Asked when he knew he might be the one eventually picked in that No. 1 spot, Slafkovsky said he’s had an inkling for a fair while.
“Actually, it was some time after the World Championship, when I was [at the] combine,” he told Sportsnet’s Caroline Cameron on the draft floor, fresh off the stage and wearing his Canadiens jersey for the first time. “I felt like they were pretty interested.”
In Slafkovsky, Montreal has added a physically imposing presence who’s proven he can make an impact offensively. The six-foot-four, 229-pound winger put up 18 points in 11 games for TPS’s U20 team this past season, adding 10 points in 31 games playing against grown men in the Liiga.
The historic night for Slovakian hockey didn’t stop with the newest member of the Canadiens, though, as countryman Simon Nemec heard his name called just one spot later, the New Jersey Devils tabbing the defenceman with the second-overall pick.
Together, the pair have become the highest Slovakian players ever selected in the Draft, narrowly besting Marion Gaborik, who went third-overall back in 2000.