All aboard the Juraj Slafkosvky hype train.
Through the men's Olympic hockey preliminary round, Slafkovsky finished tied for first with four goals - an incredible feat given he's been in Slovakia's bottom-six the whole time.
Oh, and he's just 17.
It's been an incredible Olympic debut for the young forward, playing in his second top men's tournament already in his career. Slafkovsky played limited minutes at the World Championship last year as he spent time adjusting to playing against men and he has taken that a big step further in Beijing. It's frankly been incredible watching what he's been able to do on a team that has struggled offensively. Slafkovsky scored all three of Slovakia's goals after the first two games and added the 3-1 marker against Latvia to put the game out of reach.
By all accounts, he's been Slovakia's MVP so far despite being the youngest forward in the tournament, period. Slafkovsky has averaged just 13:27 per game, around mid-pack for the team, but he's been effective in the ice time given.
Craig Ramsay told reporters in Beijing that Slafkovsky reminds him of a young Clark Gillies - someone who worked hard, hit and caused damage on the scoresheet. Slafkovsky isn't afraid to use his 6-foot-4 frame and 218 pounds to outmuscle players for the puck, even if it gets him into a bit of trouble at times.
That ability to bring a physically mature game to the men's level has been important in his transition to the top Finnish league this season where he skates with mid-pack outfit TPS. Slafkovsky hasn't really exploded offensively with just four points in 21 games, but it's not uncommon for a U-18 player to be buried in the lineup. It's been a big learning year for Slafkovsky, who has bounced around pro and the U-20 level as he continues to try and build his confidence. Slafkovsky started the year playing close to 20 minutes a night before falling down the lineup with little offense to show for.
But again, nobody was really expecting huge numbers from Slafkovsky this year. He's one of just 11 U-18 skaters to play in Liiga this year, sitting second behind fellow projected top 10 pick Joakim Kemell (18) for second in points. He has nothing really left to prove against teenagers, as shown by his 18 points in 11 games with TPS' junior program.
So that's why Slafkovsky's performance has been notable in Beijing thus far. Slafkovsky has been given the opportunities through favorable matchups in Group C play to play an impactful role for the Slovaks. Most of his most impactful plays have looked simple and smart, but it's been his quick release on his wrist shots that have shone through the most.
"He brings power to his game, but sometimes his best games are when he keeps things simple," a European scout said. "But his creativity really helps him stand apart on so many occasions."
Scouts love Slafkovsky's base at this point in his development. He clearly has NHL-ready size and his speed skill and work ethic is exactly what you're looking for from a prospect his age. From a skill perspective, he's more like a 5-foot-11 dangler with that can kill you with quickness, something you don't see often from players his size.
That whole package has been on full display in Beijing, which has arguably marked some of his most impressive hockey to date. And that's huge for his profile, as many scouts view him to go somewhere in the top 10 with fellow Slovakian youngster Simon Nemec.
The absence of NHLers in Beijing has given young players like Slafkovsky a chance to showcase what they can do. Had the NHL gone to the Olympics, they'd be looking at four forwards making the roster, with another five potential options from the AHL. That would have meant Slafkovsky would have likely missed the team in favor of more experienced veterans, so Slafkovsky is seizing the opportunity in the best possible way.
The NHL team that selects Slafkovsky is getting a player that likely won't need that much development time before making the big time. Slafkovsky isn't projected to be a top-line forward, but he should be a fantastic middle-six player that will terrorize players physically and offensively.
If that doesn't excite you, it should. Because he's going to be so much fun to watch, and Beijing is his coming-out party.