If you've followed prospects over the past few weeks, you've definitely seen a lot about Slovakia.
It's a mega season for the Slovaks, who currently have two prospects projected to challenge for top five spots in the draft with Simon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovsky. Both put on a show at the recent Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, and while the Slovaks ultimately lost to Russia in the gold medal game, both Nemec and Slafkovsky re-affirmed why they're top prospects.
And then, there was goaltender Rastislav Elias. The 2022 draft is still wide open in the crease, but Elias showed early on why he's one of the better names in the running right now. It's hard If you look at his stats at the end of the tournament - a 3.11 GAA and a .891 SP - it's hard to see why without really breaking down his performance in more detail. For starters, with just five games played, one bad outing can completely skew the final numbers, and that's where Elias fell flat.
His numbers were the best in the tournament until the 7-2 loss against Russia, with Elias in for six of them. His numbers would have been much more respectable without the onslaught by the much stronger Russian team in the championship game, or without the little Finnish flurry in the semifinal when Slovakia started to pack it in with the win essentially confirmed before the game hit the halfway point.
But just from watching him play, you could tell just how good of a tournament Elias had. He was the only goalie to play all five games in the tournament (although he was removed for the third period in the final) and outdueled four of his counterparts. Even against Russia, he didn't look that bad, but the overall performance difference between the two teams was evident immediately.
As confirmed by Dennik Sport journalist Matej Deraj last week, Elias will make his way over to the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers for the 2021-22 campaign. It'll mark his first North American tour after the team selected him in the ninth round of the 2020 USHL draft. The league has often been a safe space for European goaltenders to get significant playing time, and Elias should be no different.
And Elias should come in prepared - Elias was a member of Slovakia's U-18 team in the second Slovak men's league last season, putting up the best stats of the three goaltenders to get significant ice time with a 3.16 GAA and .906 SP. The team is the youngest by far and typically is outworked in men's league action, but Elias had two shutouts and was generally a positive force for the club.
At 6-foot-3, Elias has good size for an NHL prospect and when he isn't positioned squarely in the crease for a shot, he has the moves to make up for it. Specifically, he tempts shooters into shooting high with his glove placement but has the reflexes to take that away at the last second. Elias also plays aggressively at the top of his crease, which, at times, can hurt on rebounds in tight, but he uses his legs better than most in the draft class to reach back and cover as much ground towards the posts as possible.
When playing against kids his own age, Elias has star potential. Topias Leinonen, Tyler Brennan and Sergei Ivanov are among other top goalie prospects so far, but Elias is definitely among the top contenders right now. He should get a significant shot with Slovakia's U-20 World Junior Championship team come December and he'll get a ton of starts in the USHL in front of North American scouts. Many scouts loved his Hlinka-Gretzky Cup - now let's see if Elias can build upon the momentum.