The Pipeline: A conversation with Juraj Slafkovsky
Juraj Slafkovsky had to leave home at 14 to pursue his love for hockey.
It’s clearly paid off, but understandably the 6-foot-4 youngster found it hard to be away from home at times.
“One year before (Finland), I was in the Czech and living alone, so I was okay to be without family. I guess I got used to it,” Slafkovsky told Guy Flaming during their interview on The Pipeline Show. “Actually, that first year away from home I missed my parents and my home.”
The 218-pound power forward dominated the U20 league in Finland and posted a whopping 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 11 games. His impressive play allowed him to get the call to play in Finland’s top mens league, the Liiga, where he finished off the season with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 31 games.
As a result, Slafkovsky is No. 4 in FCHockey’s Spring ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft, and is slotted 2nd among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm list.
The 17-year-old solidified his position as one of the best eligible draft prospects with his play at the Olympics in Beijing, where he posted seven goals to help Slovakia win their first ever medal in hockey, a bronze. He earned MVP honors of the tournament.
His play at the Olympics surprised even him.
“Yeah I was so surprised and I’m still surprised and I don’t believe I scored that many goals.” he said. “Maybe my stick was just on fire, I don’t know. Everything I shot just went in.”
Guy Flaming: How about the way that you have played this year with TPS, with the men’s team? I know players your age playing in that league don’t always get a lot of ice time. We shouldn’t really look at your numbers, your stats, and believe much in them. So how do you feel about the way you have played this year?
Juraj Slafskovsky: I feel like I’ve played pretty well, of course. People usually look at the numbers, but it’s kind of hard when they check my numbers. I think people interested in hockey and the scouts when they watch my game, I think I’ve been playing pretty okay. I created some chances but the points are not there.
Guy Flaming: Does that bother you? You’re an offensive player, you’re used to putting up a lot of points, and you only have four (points) in 24 games with the mens team, does that bother you?
Juraj Slafkovsky: Yeah, of course. Sometimes it’s hard when you want to make some points and score some goals with the men’s team. But I still feel like it will come when the right time comes. I’m still waiting and working hard.
Guy Flaming: You’re 17-years-old and when you’re playing with players your age, like with TPS the U20 team, you’ve got 18 points in 11 games. So when you’re playing with and against players your age, you’re a dominant player. How have you felt this year when you’re playing? You’re listed as 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, you are a man. Do you feel comfortable playing against other men right now?
Juraj Slafkovsky: Yeah, at the beginning of course I was a little bit stressed on the ice and not very comfortable, but as the time goes I feel more and more comfortable. I hope it will just grow and I will also score some points.
Guy Flaming: But you’re big and strong, so it’s not like you’re being pushed around by the other players in the league, because you’re probably bigger and stronger than a lot of them.
Juraj Slafkovsky: Yeah, I feel like I’m strong enough to play with the men, so that’s good.
Guy Flaming: Juraj, this is your third year playing in Finland. What led you to play in Finland? It’s actually been five years since you played in Slovakia, but why did you go to Finland?
Juraj Slafkovsky: When I was talking with my parents before, I was thinking that I wanted to try to go somewhere to Sweden or Finland, then I got the opportunity to play in Finland, so I decided that I wanted to go here. I think it went pretty good.
Guy Flaming: Was it a big change to go from Slovakia to Finland? Did it take you a while to feel comfortable?
Juraj Slafkovsky: Actually one year before I was in the Czech and living alone, so I was okay to be without family. I guess I got used to it. Actually, that third year away from home I missed my parents and my home.
Guy Flaming: Juraj, tell me where in Slovakia are you from and how old were you when you started playing hockey?
Juraj Slafkovsky: I grew up in Kosice, Slovakia — the second biggest city. When I was five, I was skating out on the river with my mom and dad, then my friends. My hockey coach called me to come and train and I said ‘yeah, why not.’ So since then I’ve been playing hockey.
Guy Flaming: Have you always been one of the tallest kids in school, were you always taller than everybody else, or did you grow really tall late?
Juraj Slafkovsky: No, it was always like I was one of the biggest guys. It was good when I was young playing with guys the same age.
Guy Flaming: Tell me about the Olympics and getting that opportunity. I don’t know if that was something you expected at the start of the year, that you would be playing at the Olympics. When did you first find out that you were being invited to play for Slovakia and go to China?
Juraj Slafkovsky: It was kind of funny because we were at the rink practicing. We were coming back in the car and I saw it on Facebook that the roster came out and I was there. When we were at the qualifiers they told us that maybe a lot of these players would be on the roster, but I didn’t expect to make it.
Guy Flaming: And your performance at the tournament, not bad at all either, as one of the leading scorers in the Olympic games. You led your team in scoring, your seven goals, nobody else scored that many goals. Are you a little bit surprised at how much success you had?
Juraj Slafkovsky: Yeah I was so surprised and I’m still surprised and I don’t believe I scored that many goals. Maybe my stick was just on fire, I don’t know. Everything I shot just went in.
Guy Flaming: How would you describe yourself as a player? Can you give us your own scouting report on yourself?
Juraj Slafkovsky: I would say I’m strong on the puck in the offensive zone. I use my size a lot. I can create some nice chances for my teammates. I think those are the things people can see when I play.
Guy Flaming: What do you have to get better at before you can have success at the next level?
Juraj Slafkovsky: Maybe the skating is the thing I need to improve. Hockey is getting faster and faster, so I need to also work on skating and speed
This interview has been edited for content and clarity