Slafkovsky, last year’s first-overall draft pick, has one goal and one assist through 11 games of his second season and often looks out of place on the ice. This after an underwhelming rookie campaign that was cut short by injury.
The Canadiens head coach compared Slafkovsky’s progress to using the GPS app “Waze” -- his estimated time of arrival might get longer due to some congestion and wrong turns, but he'll still arrive at his destination.
St. Louis feels the 19-year-old forward is heading to a good place, even if he's not on the most direct route so far.
“You get caught in traffic, what happens to the time (on Waze)? Does it go up or down? Do you turn around or continue? You continue. And if you miss an exit, do you get upset, turn around and go home, or does it reroute you and you still get to your destination?” St. Louis said Monday at Bell Centre.
“Slaf is headed to a nice destination, we don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take, and sometimes there’s traffic — he can’t get upset, he can’t get discouraged.”
St. Louis says navigating his way into the NHL with the pressure of being a No. 1 selection in a market like Montreal makes things even more difficult for Slafkovsky.
“It’s not easy for a young 19-year-old to not hear about it, not be exposed to it with all the media in Montreal," he said. "Everyone is talking about the fact that he’s in traffic and his missed exits, it’s not easy for a kid who’s 19, so we’re trying to help him with that."
Whether or not the Canadiens should have kept Slafkovsky in the NHL last season instead of sending him back to his native Slovakia, or to Laval of the American Hockey League, has long been a discussion.
Perhaps to give him a boost, St. Louis, forced to shuffle his lines after an injury to Rafael Harvey-Pinard and the return of Christian Dvorak, put Slafkovsky on Montreal’s top line alongside captain Nick Suzuki and sharpshooter Cole Caufield in Montreal’s 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.
Slafkovsky broke through with a first goal of the year and his first in 31 games to get the monkey off his back.
Veteran Canadiens centre Sean Monahan believes that could be all he needs.
"Sometimes it's just putting one in the back of the net,” said Monahan. “You start to feel the pressure, you put one in and you start to play more relaxed, loosen up on your stick, and player more your game and be yourself, so I think that last goal there in St. Louis is going to be big."
Though Monahan wasn’t a first-overall pick, he understands the pressures Slafkovsky is facing after playing in a Canadian NHL market as an 18-year-old when the Calgary Flames drafted him sixth in 2013.
He says he talks to Slafkovsky every day, and believes the most important thing is to stay off social media.
“I remember when I was that age, and you play a bad game and you go on Twitter or whatever it is, and it's everywhere,” said Monahan, who no longer uses any social media. "You've just got to try and avoid that. And like I said, put in the work and enjoy being at the rink, enjoy your teammates and learn new stuff every day."
Slafkovsky’s next chance to build on his momentum is at home on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, when he’s again expected to skate on the Canadiens' top line.
After Slafkovsky finally found the scoresheet on Saturday, could Josh Anderson be next?
Anderson, often Slafkovsky’s linemate this season, is goalless through 11 games and has 21 shots, many of which came from Grade A opportunities.
"As a player, you want to produce in this league and I feel like personally the chances are there,” he said. “I'm fully confident in my teammates and myself that, it only takes one to get going and you've just got to bear down and start capitalizing on your chances."
Has he tried to change things up equipment-wise?
"I tried to change my tape job, but that's about it," he said. “Trying different things right now.”
The 29-year-old winger has 122 goals in 468 career games — or one every 3.8 games — and is under contract through 2026-27 at a US$5.5-million cap hit.
“He could be at four or five goals,” said St. Louis. “He had a lot of chances early, and once you haven’t scored on those the pressure builds. I know that’s not easy as a player, you got keep working to get the first one.
“Josh is pretty streaky, when he scores one, he’s going to score a couple.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press