NHL Draft recap: Juraj Slafkovsky takes surprise first-round pick

Posted: July 9, 2022, 12:54 p.m.

Last update: July 9, 2022, 12:59 p.m.

Shane Wright was to be the first draft pick of the night. But in a surprising twist, the first two picks went to Slovak players.

Juraj Slafkovsky (center) is arm in arm with Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes (left) after his draft pick on Thursday night. Slafkovsky was the first overall pick. (Photo: Bruce Bennett)

For the first time in three years, fans were able to watch the NHL Draft at the Bell Center in Montreal. With the Montreal Canadiens holding the first overall pick, the night has fans sitting on the edge of their seats.

When draft day began, Shane Wright was the consensus No. 1 pick at -200 over Fanduel. With Juraj Slofkovsky at +170 to go first. But at 6 p.m., with the draft only an hour away, those odds changed and Slofkovsky became the favorite, closing at -160 to be the first overall pick while Wright was at +115.

Some information must have leaked somewhere for Wright to go from -200 to +115 in a matter of hours because when it came time for the Canadians to pick safe enough, Slafkovsky was their man as the big left winger from Slovakia was chosen first overall, becoming the first Slovak to be chosen number one.

So depending on when you bet on Slofkovsky, you could have made him win between -160 and +170 on Thursday.

Slovakia takes the night

The Slovak theme continued as Simon Nemec was picked second overall – this is the first time two Slovaks have been selected in the first round and only 2 picks have been made.

Wright didn’t even finish third overall, in fact that accolade was Logan Cooley who was +2600 to be first overall. He was the first center to be removed from the board and even though he committed to play for the University of Minnesota next year, the still-rebuilding Arizona Coyotes thought that he was the right person for this choice.

After sitting around for what must have seemed like an eternity, Wright’s name was called pick number four at the Seattle Kraken. Kingston Frontenacs Center had to wait 3 picks and two trades, but his name was finally called, and it must have been a feeling of relief when he was.

As for the Slovak theme, the Montreal Canadiens also had a pick at number 26, and they added Slofkovsky’s teammate and friend Filip Mesar of Slovakia. This put a first-round cap for the Canadians and was Slovakia’s third pick in the first round.

To put that into perspective, only one Slovak had been drafted in the first round in the past 10 years and the best Slovak ever drafted was Marian Gaborik of the Minnesota Wild with the third overall pick in 2000.

Choices and exchanges

After the third overall pick, commissioner Gary Bettman stepped up to the microphone and announced the first trades of the night, both involving the Montreal Canadiens, much to the delight of the crowd.

Montreal traded defenseman Alexander Romanov and pick #98 (round 4, 1st pick – Isaiah George – D – OHL) to the New York Islanders for pick No. 13 (Frank Nazar – C – USA NTDP) overall. But as soon as the Canadiens acquired the pick, they shipped him off the Chicago Blackhawks with pick #66 (round 3, 1st pick – Gavin Hayes – AG – OHL) for the Kirby Dach Center.