Coming into the 2022 Beijing Olympic men's hockey tournament, the absence of NHL players left room for youth and European pros to take center stage.
Slovakia's Juraj Slafkovsky fits into both of those categories thanks to his age.
The young Slovak has done nothing but impress throughout the Olympic tournament, leading all players with five goals after the quarterfinal. His willingness to use his size and length have been noticeable throughout the event as well.
How is a 17-year-old finding the back of the net more than anyone else? Let’s take a look.
Unfortunately, not all of his goals are available online and the Olympics doesn’t take too kindly to posting their content so we will work with what we have for this video study - if the video isn't available, check your Olympic broadcaster for video.
Goal 1 vs. Finland
Slafkovksy scored the tournament-opening goal for the Slovak side with some good hands in tight. At the start of the clip, we see Slafkovsky move in to support the scrum without ever getting tied up. With two teammates tied up in the battle, getting in there himself would only clog things up more. Instead, hovering to the outside and waiting for the puck to squeak out allows him to stay in the play, move the puck, and remain available for a pass.
Once the puck pops free from the pile, Slafkovsky is quickly on it and sends it down low to a teammate escaping behind the opposing net. The young Slovak then filters to the front of the net where he sits down at the top of the crease, in behind two Finnish defenders. The puck is thrown to the net and rebounds off the netminder's pads before Slafkovsky collects it, brings it to his backhand, and flips it in by the goalie.
With his 6-foot-4 and 210-pound frame, Slafkovsky has the reach to push the puck wide on his backhand before flicking it into the net and the strength to not worry about a defender jumping on his back. His puck skill gives him the ability to make a move in tight as he does. While it’s certainly not an end-to-end rush highlight-reel goal, Slafkovsky’s first goal of the Olympics came on a play that he will have the chance to make many times at the pro-level moving forward.
Fun fact: Slafkovsky’s first two Olympic goals were scored in a jersey with his name misspelled on the back.
Goal 4 vs. Latvia
This is a bit of a fun goal. With the Latvians beginning to break the puck out of the zone, Slafkovsky jumps onto the ice and steals the breakout pass.
Slafkovsky then breaks down the ice full of energy and unleashes a howitzer from the high slot. The shot beats the Latvian netminder clean and Slafkovsky managed to take the lead for goals scored.
You can see that Slafkovsky uses the lone defender as a screen. The defender is in panic mode and back on his heels because Slafkovsky is attacking with speed. When they don’t gap up and close down the space, Slafkovsky took advantage. He is on the ice for all of five seconds and he picks off a pass, attacks the slot and makes the most of it.
Goal 5 vs. USA
With the American’s favored in the quarterfinal game, Slovakia needed to start strong, and Slafkovsky took care of that with the opening goal.
After his team took the puck down the ice, Slafkovsky geared down to become the high trailing forward down the middle. The puck is worked deep and Slafkovsky stays in open space, circling from low to high in the slot, settling into a pocket of space. Once there, his linemate works the puck free and up the boards to a defender moving down the wall. Slafkovsky, still in the slot, gets the pass from the defender in space and fires a shot that beats American goalie Strauss Mann clean up high.
The really intriguing part about this goal is the puck reception and shooting motion that Slafkovsky displays. He collects a pass out in front of him towards the net and then quickly pivots and leans on his inside leg for leverage to get the shot off. It’s not particularly the cleanest shooting motion, but the ability to contort his body and get an excellent shot off is enticing for NHL clubs.
Rarely does a player get a clean look in the NHL. Showcasing the ability to get a shot off quickly and from an unorthodox shooting position will have NHL scouts digging deeper into Slafkovsky’s game.
What Does This Mean for Slafkovsky’s Draft Stock?
Slafkovsky will certainly get a bump up draft boards both in the public sphere and behind NHL closed doors and it is well deserved. Scoring the way he has at the Olympics is nothing to ignore. Slafkovsky has been able to showcase the offensive side of his game, particularly the scoring touch that has been missing in the Liiga. The way that the young Slovak forward was able to showcase his game at the Olympics will only be a positive for his draft stock.
With that said, there are holes in his game and an element of rawness that still very much exists. As with any international tournament, the Olympics are a small sample, and making any major decision - such as drafting a player in round one - shouldn’t drastically change because of a week-long tournament.
Slafkovsky is a skilled playmaker who identifies lanes very well. The goal-scoring is an element that many felt was always there but didn’t show up in his game consistently enough prior to the Olympics. There are worries about his game in transition as he has many of the tools you’d like to see but he doesn’t really put them together. His defensive game has room to grow as well. With his massive frame and reach, Slafkovsky should be more effective in taking away passing lanes and creating turnovers.
Slafkovsky is quite strong and can deal with the physicality of the men’s game in the Liiga and at the Olympics which is an encouraging sign. He has flashes of unreal skill and maneuverability in the offensive zone. Slafkovsky has the physical tools and upside to correct the areas of concern in his game so it could just be a matter of time.
A rise up the draft boards is bound to happen, and his performance has been very promising. While he once looked like a possible top-10 pick, Slafkovsky has used the Olympics to push into the conversation in the top-five and could very well entice a team to take him top-three.