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Habs GM Hughes on Slafkovsky: ‘We feel his development will happen in stages’

Juraj Slafkovsky Montreal Canadiens Juraj Slafkovsky - The Canadian Press

With Juraj Slafkovsky’s rookie season essentially over thanks to a lower-body injury, Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes addressed concerns about the 18-year-old’s development at a Wednesday media conference.

Taken first overall by the Habs in July’s draft, Slafkovsky has four goals and 10 points in 39 games this season, but has no points in his past 15 games while averaging only 12:13 TOI in 2022-23.

Hughes said Wednesday that the team had regular talks about the rookie’s development, including whether or not to send him to the AHL. Ultimately the front office felt it wasn’t the best course of action. 

"Hockey is a reactive instinctive game. In Juraj's case, what we’re trying to do is help him understand how he can be most successful in North America. We feel his development will happen in stages,” Hughes said.

“Sometimes this year we’ve seen him on the ice think. Other times we’ve seen him react. But we're not worried about the production side of it. We’re really worried about seeing the areas that we want him to improve on. Do we see progress in those areas? We certainly believe that long term, if he makes these changes to his game, it’s going to allow him to adapt to the North American style and be the most successful player he can be.”

Hughes said there isn’t one path developmentally for every player. Slafkovsky is the only player in the 2022 draft class to stay in the NHL full time this season.

The Canadiens said Wednesday that the Slovakian winger’s lower-body injury will keep him out for three months but will not require surgery.

"Juraj has shown us an enthusiasm, a self-confidence - not an arrogance but a self-confidence - and a willingness to learn,” said Hughes. “Whether we're right or wrong, I don't know because there is no one path. We'll go by trial and error as we go through all this...we're constantly evaluating.”