It is no secret that Slovakia has had a tough go-around internationally for fairly a while.
The nation gained gold for the primary time in 2002 and backed that up with a bronze medal effort. In 2008, they barely prevented relegation however took silver in 2012. Ever since, the crew has made the quarter-finals simply as soon as and had been fortunate to keep away from relegation over Italy in 2017.
However there’s lastly some optimism. Slovakia has had three gamers drafted within the high 100 over the previous three drafts and has crafted some good younger gamers in Tampa Bay Lightning defender Erik Cernak and Washington Capitals prospect Martin Fehervary, amongst others.
However there’s an actual youth motion occurring proper now. 9 gamers on the lads’s World Championship crew are 21 years or youthful, and Simon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovsky are potential high 10 picks for the 2022 NHL draft. At a mean age of 24.75 years outdated, Slovakia is bringing its youngest roster they’ve ever had in match historical past. Earlier this season, Slovakia’s world junior outfit had a mean age of 18.68 years outdated – the youngest of the 10-team brigade.
At this level, Nemec has a powerful shot at going within the high 5 of the draft subsequent 12 months. The 6-foot-1 blueliner performed heavy minutes with HK Nitra within the high Slovak league and acquired some top-pairing alternatives with Slovakia’s males’s crew in latest exhibition contests.
“He is a bit undersized, however the skating, hockey sense, mobility and two-way play… he is a jack-of-all-trades,” a scout instructed The Hockey Information. “He brings that offensive ingredient, he will get again on pucks rapidly, and he is not comfortable by any means.”
Standing tall at 6-foot-4, Slafkovsky had a notable efficiency with Slovakia on the world juniors in Alberta. Slafkovsky solely had 13 factors in 16 video games, however his .81 points-per-game common was second amongst 2004-born gamers within the Finnish U-20 league behind fellow 2022 draft prospect Joakim Kemell. Slafkovsky ought to take his recreation to new heights as a 17-year-old subsequent season, particularly if he provides some mass and continues to enhance his talents away from the puck as a result of, with it, he is robust to decelerate.
“Massive child, however might fare so as to add a little bit of upper-body energy,” a scout stated. “However he has the power to dominate a shift in a approach no one has accomplished from Slovakia since Marian Hossa. Will he get to that degree? We’ll see, however there’s one thing actually particular about him.
Samuel Knazko is hoping to be the subsequent high defenseman from Slovakia. Simply 18, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect is the one blueliner on the crew that at present belongs to an NHL group.
The absence of NHL defensemen on the match – specifically Erik Cernak and Andrej Sekera – means Knazko may very well be relied on a bit greater than in a standard 12 months, regardless of not taking part in any professional hockey at this level in his profession. Knazko’s solely actual competitors exterior of the U-20 age bracket is his eight video games with the Slovaks in opposition to the Czechs, Latvia, Germany and Austria over the previous month.
“He is not a lock to make the NHL by any means, and I want we acquired to see him extra in opposition to males, however in his personal age group, he has proven many promising indicators,” a European scout stated. “I preferred him on the second pairing in opposition to the Czechs in pleasant play, however I really feel like he is simply lacking the true offensive aspect of his recreation that might make him extra invaluable.”
Realistically, it is anticipated that Knazko will begin the match on the underside pairing, and doubtlessly gravitate his approach up the lineup because the occasion goes on. The truth that he is not going to start out with a ton of ice time instantly is not a knock on his recreation – he is simply 18. Nemec ought to get extra ice time, however he is a phenom in comparison with the remainder of the blueline. Nemec goes to be a star for this nationwide crew for a very long time, and Knazko hopes to be a mainstay himself.
With three gamers – Peter Cehlarik, Marek Hrivik and Marian Studenic – combining for all 72 video games of NHL expertise on this crew, the alternatives for the younger stars to make a reputation for themselves are obvious. Slovakia is not a favourite to win gold by any means, however after spurts of hope over the previous few years, there’s one thing actually thrilling for Slovakian followers to cheer for: the long run.
And that future is wanting mighty shiny.