When Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reported that the Vancouver Canucks had interviewed 18-year-old Slovakian Olympic star and top-rated European prospect Juraj Slafkovsky at the NHL Combine in Buffalo and asked him if he could play center, it sent hearts and minds aflutter in British Columbia. The left winger earned MVP honours at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in leading his Slovakian team to the country’s first ever medal, a bronze, and is presumed to be the 2nd player taken this summer at the NHL Draft behind Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs.
The Montreal Canadiens choose first overall, with the New Jersey Devils slated to pick second, a pick they’ve openly admitted is available for trade. The Devils are loaded with young forward talent and are looking for some veteran grit, leadership, and balance.
The Canucks were apparently one of 14 NHL teams to speak with Slafkovsky, who ended up with five goals and five assists in 31 games this past season as a 17-year-old playing in Liiga, Finland’s top pro league.
Canucks Trade Speculation
Slafkovsky is a big boy, 6-foot-4 and almost 220 pounds. Having just finished up the World Championships, he was exempt from having to participate in the slate of drills at the Draft Combine.
So let’s, for the sake of argument, presume he’s worth moving around some chess pieces.
Was the “can you play center” question a flight of fancy? If a legitimate scenario exists involving trading for him and moving him to the middle, then it obviously means a current Vancouver Canucks player or two is on the move, including a center. Depth wise they can afford it. Moving JT Miller and his likely $9-million per season contract that would kick-in for 2022-’23 would leave the Canucks in good hands with Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, with 22-year-old right-hander Linus Karlsson and Slafkovsky in short-term development.
The Vancouver Canucks could keep Slafkovsky on the wing and move Brock Boeser’s money. Again, younger and cheaper.
Keep in mind, there’s 13 other NHL teams interested in some variation of the same concept; getting a hold of Slafkovsky. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald is in the driver’s seat while offering up the 2nd-overall pick.
Mutually exclusive from whether or not the Vancouver Canucks move some salary out of town is the fact they need to draft a defenceman. Staying put at pick number-15 gives them plenty of options.
We detailed some of the names earlier, with a couple of Western Leaguers being in the cross-hairs, Denton Mateychuk from the Moose Jaw Warriors and Owen Pickering from the Swift Current Broncos both sitting as middle first-round prospects. The problem is, they’re both lefties. If Jack Rathbone continues to pan out, the Vancouver Canucks are loaded on that side.
Of course, D-men take longer to develop and matters might be different before these fellas are ready.
Ryan Chesley, ranked a little lower at 18th on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s North American side is a righty with the USA National Team Development Program (NTDP).
Another sneaky name to watch and a likely middle first rounder playing in Leksand, Sweden, the hometown of Vancouver Canucks General Manager Patrik Allvin, is Lian Bichsel, a giant lefty D-man who just turned 18 two weeks ago.
I’m led to believe some puzzle pieces will move. Between now and NHL Draft round-one on July 7th, one should expect a surprise from the Canucks.