BUFFALO, NY — Shane Wright landed a steak dinner with the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL pre-draft meeting this week. Juraj Slafkovsky brought the sizzle.
Wright and Slafkovsky vie to become first pick in NHL Draft
Hailing from Burlington, Ont., the 18-year-old center is ranked first among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and had the privilege of dining with the Canadiens, who own the No. 1 pick.
“I was about to order and I mentioned, ‘Hey, I was looking at the steak but it’s pretty expensive, $60 or something,'” Wright said. “And they were like, ‘Ah, go ahead and take it.’ So I made sure everything was fine beforehand.
None of this troubled Slafkovsky, Central Scouting’s top-ranked international skater.
“That’s what he thinks,” Slafkovsky said, referring to Wright’s comments. “I’m thinking of something else.”
Slafkovsky of Slovakia then flashed a beaming smile when asked how his interview with the Canadiens went, saying: “I didn’t have dinner but I think the conversation we had was maybe -be, as for me, better.
Dinner aside, the Canadiens haven’t let go of their favorite player as they prepare to host the two-day NHL Draft on July 7-8.
What has become clear in recent weeks is that the gap may well be closing between Wright, the Ontario Junior League player who has long been considered the frontrunner, and Slafkovsky, a forward who has made turn heads by being named MVP of the Beijing Winter Games tournament for helping Slovakia win. a bronze medal — the country’s first in Olympic competition.
And don’t overlook the possibility of Logan Cooley entering the conversation. At 5-foot-10, 174 pounds, Cooley is a Pittsburgh native and ranked second among North American skaters after leading USA Hockey’s Under-18 development team with an average of 1.47 points. per game scoring 27 goals and 75 points in 51 outings.
Central scouting chief Dan Marr considered Wright and Slafkovsky the two most NHL-ready prospects, before including Cooley as someone who could make an impact down the road.
“The first three teams to pick in the draft could get the No. 1 player in the draft. It’s so tight,” Marr said. “So it depends on the club’s drafting philosophy and what they are looking for.”
The New Jersey Devils have the second pick, while Arizona, Seattle and Philadelphia round out the top five.
At 6 feet, 191 pounds, Wright is coming off a season in which he finished eighth in the OHL with 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games. He was the OHL and Canadian Hockey League rookie of the year in 2019-20, and after becoming just the fifth OHL player to earn outstanding junior status at age 15.
And he excelled on the international stage, scoring nine goals, a Hockey Canada Under-18 record, in just five games, leading his country to a gold medal in 2021.
Wright drew comparisons to Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron, with Central Scouting calling him “potential to be a star in the NHL and become the type of player you can build a team around.”
Slafkovsky has gradually become an elite prospect over the past 13 months, during which he has represented Slovakia at the Olympics, two World Championships and spent last season playing for TPS in the Elite League of Finland.
After failing to score a goal at the 2021 Worlds, Slafkovsky scored seven in Beijing to finish tied for the lead in the Olympic tournament. He then had three goals and nine points in eight games at the world championships in Finland last month.
At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, Slafkovsky is stick handling strength in driving to the net, and also able to make skillful passes to set up teammates.
“I think it was a lot about confidence in the end because I already knew I could play hockey, but I just didn’t show it,” Slafkovsky said of his leap into the game. production. “At the Olympics my confidence was quite high, so I think it was more because I needed to trust myself.”
His confidence grew to believe he should have the edge over the other prospects.
“I played in the men’s last season and…more guys played in the juniors. It’s a better preparation in my opinion,” Slafkovsky said.
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