As the 2022 NHL Entry Draft approaches, most hockey fans have their eyes fixated on Canadian prodigy Shane Wright. The 18-year-old center was granted exceptional player status ahead of the Ontario Hockey League's 2019-20 season, and he's been penned as the consensus No. 1 overall pick for July's draft ever since.
But while Wright is still the likeliest candidate to be selected No. 1 overall, a new name has aggressively sprouted up as one of the can't-miss youngsters available in the coming draft — Juraj Slafkovsky.
Slafkovsky, just 17, is the youngest player competing in the men's hockey tournament at the 2022 Winter Olympics, and he's done nothing but turn heads since he and his Slovakian teammates first hit the ice at the Games.
In his very first game as an Olympian, Slafkovsky netted two goals against a strong Finnish squad. His pair of tallies ended up being Slovakia's only markers of the contest.
"It gives you goosebumps," said Slafkovsky. "It's always good when I can score. I just hope I can continue during the tournament."
And continue he has. Now three games into his Olympic career, Slafkovsky leads all players in the men's tournament with four goals, and he's been the most dangerous player on Slovakia's roster by a considerable margin.
"If he just keeps shooting the puck now it's going to go in, so I'm happy for him," said Slovakia forward Peter Cehlarik. "He is young blood, so he is giving us a lot of energy out there."
Slafkovsky isn't just making an impact as a goal-scorer, either. While he's yet to register an assist at the Olympics, he's helped generate numerous scoring chances for his teammates since the start of competition.
Despite his youth, Slafkovsky is an imposing presence in the offensive zone. Already standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing nearly 220 pounds, the Kosice native is exceptionally strong on the puck and rarely gets outmuscled even by veteran players. This isn't a complete shock given his experience playing against grown men in Liiga, the top professional hockey league in Finland.
After his strong start at the Olympics, Slovakia head coach Craig Ramsay has started deploying Slafkovsky during shorthanded situations, which is quite uncommon for most players his age. But through three contests, he's made it clear that he can be trusted to play in any given situation, and he's making the most of his opportunities.
"He's been really good," said Slovakia forward Marek Hrivik. "It's really nice to watch him in the practices and now he comes into the game and scores big goals. He's got a bright future, he's going to be a big player."