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Hughes: Habs have ‘got to do what’s right’ for top pick Slafkovsky

Montreal Canadiens Juraj Slafkovsky - The Canadian Press

The Montreal Canadiens will soon have a crucial decision to make regarding 2022 No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky.

The Slovak was made the top pick at July’s NHL Draft thanks to his combination of size and skill. He was also seen by some as the most NHL-ready player thanks to his success against older competition at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where he scored a tournament-best seven goals in seven games and was named Most Valuable Player.

However, the 18-year-old has gotten off to a relatively quiet start in his NHL career, recording no points over his first two preseason games and failing to follow up on impressive showings from rookie camp.

Canadiens’ general manager Kent Hughes discussed Slafkovsky’s performance on Thursday’s Ray and Dregs Podcast and how the team will make the decision on whether or not he will begin the 2022-23 season in the NHL.

“We’ll see how he progresses. I thought his two exhibition games were a little underwhelming for him, but the two rookie games in Buffalo, he was great,” said Hughes.

“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.

“But we’ve got to do what’s right for him. 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.”

Thanks to the transfer agreement between the NHL and Liiga, the Habs have the option of sending Slafkovsky to play with the AHL’s Laval Rocket as it allows Liiga players drafted in the first round to jump to the professional level in North America, even if they are under contract in Europe.

Hughes has previously stated that he would like to keep the Kosice native in North America this season, whether it be in Montreal or Laval.

The Canadiens have six preseason games remaining to evaluate Slafkovsky and decide whether he will begin his North American career in the NHL or AHL.

Montreal will open its season on Oct. 12 at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs.