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Slafkovsky Opens Up About Handling Fame, Pressure With Canadiens

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Canadiens prospect Juraj Slafkovsky

ARLINGTON, V.A. — In less than 24 hours in late June, Juraj Slafkovsky turned into a household name in Quebec. Since the Montreal Canadiens selected him first overall, Slafkovsky has felt all eyes on him, and now, he can barely walk through the streets of Montreal or his hometown of Košice, Slovakia, without being recognized.

However, despite the fame and pressure on his shoulders, Slafkovsky is humble and soft-spoken. His sense of humor and big personality shines through, and he shows the makings of a future star. While being in the spotlight and having pressure on his shoulders weighs heavy, he doesn’t hide from it — nor does he try to. Instead, he welcomes it.

“I’m okay with that,” the young star decides at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase. “If I’m not eating right at the moment or doing something, I don’t mind. I like to take pictures or sign something for the fans. It’s part of it.

“I don’t think that’s any problem for me. Like I said, everything around me’s just part of it and I’m okay with that. Just looking forward to that,” he added.

After an impressive Olympic run for Slovakia, a strong season, a standout NHL Combine and good draft interviews, Kent Hughes and the Canadiens took a gamble. Rather than taking surefire No. 1 pick Shane Wright, they rolled the dice on Slafkovsky. Wright dropped to fourth.

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Going back to Beijing, the 18-year-old couldn’t imagine that he would go first overall or become the highest-drafted Slovak in NHL history.

“I was hoping for that, but I still knew there was a lot of work to do and there still is,” he pointed out matter-of-factly.

Across the province, there are high hopes for Slafkovsky, who brings a lot to the table. Along with his offensive awareness, the towering 6-4, 218-pound forward uses his size to his advantage and protects the puck well. He makes good decisions under pressure, can make highlight-reel plays on the fly and win battles along the boards. Slavkovsky also has a wicked shot, quick hands and a high hockey IQ that makes him a strong, complete player.

Add that to his experience playing against men on the international stage, and you get a dynamic player with a lot to prove. He’s also caught the attention of other prospects and Olympians he played against in Beijing.

“I just remember seeing him at the Olympics, I was like, ‘Oh, this kid’s a player.’ And it wasn’t a shock to me that he got drafted where he got drafted. I’ve never really seen him on the ice and like, ‘Jesus Christ, you’re huge!'” Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brendan Brisson said of No. 20. “Saw videos of him at camp and on the bike and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I’ve been talking to him a little bit. He’s a really nice guy and obviously, he’s a pretty special player.”

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“He’s a big boy. He has an unreal shot, really good knack to get around the net and score goals. Some guys just have that. I have yet to acquire that, but some people just have that knack for the net, and he’s definitely got it,” Matty Beniers added of Slafkovsky. “He’s got great size, we’ve been able to meet him a little bit here and seems like a great guy.”

There are still little details he can work on, including his speed and positioning, but he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get to that next level.

“It’s just the reaction or like, quickness of the reactions. And if I get used to that, I think I will be fine,” Slafkovsky pointed out.

With training camp weeks away, Slafkovsky and the Canadiens haven’t talked too much about the plan for him next season. Despite his highly-touted play, draft position and ability, he knows that he’ll have to earn his roster spot.

Slafkovsky will play in the NHL Rookie Tournament in Buffalo and has also caught up with a few teammates already, including Nick Suzuki. However, he’s on board for whatever is in store for him heading into the campaign as he chases his NHL dream.

“I’m trying to do everything so I play in NHL, but of course, I will do whatever Montreal says, whatever they think will be best for me,” Slafkovsky said. “But first, I want to do everything so I’m ready to play in NHL.”

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When it comes to whether or not he’s proud of what he has accomplished, Slafkovsky admitted that was “tough to say.”

“I still don’t play in the NHL, so maybe I will be proud of myself in a couple of years. Not today,” he said.

Overall, though, he is ready to build his legacy. And whatever fame or pressure comes with it is more than welcome. Still, he admits that seeing himself on trading cards and posters will be a bit strange, but on that topic, he let his personality shine through again.

“Depends on how my face will look,” he laughed when asked about seeing himself on new Upper Deck rookie cards.

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