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Slafkovsky intrigued by Devils, No. 1 International skater for 2022 Draft

BUFFALO — Juraj Slafkovsky, a projected top three selection in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft, decided to do a little investigating to learn about one of the NHL teams that could be announcing his name at Bell Center in Montreal on July 7.

During the 2022 IIHF World Championship, the 18-year-old left wing had an opportunity to grill New Jersey Devils forward and Slovakia teammate Thomas Tatar. The Devils hold the No. 2 pick in the draft. The Montreal Canadiens own the No. 1 pick and the Arizona Coyotes are No. 3.

Slafkovsky interviewed with each of the three teams Wednesday and totaled 14 interviews for the week.

“I was playing with (Tatar), so I asked him questions,” Slafkovsky said. “I asked him how things were going in New Jersey. I know the guys playing there like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier. I don’t know them personally, but I’ve watched them. He told me that it would be nice if I can play with him, but we will see.

“I told [the Devils] I know Tatar and they asked me, ‘What did he say?’ And it was all good things.”

When asked about Hughes, Slafkovsky smiled and said, “He’s got soft hands, likes to skate and make things happen out there.”

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Slafkovsky (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters, will not test at the NHL Scouting Combine after playing at the World Championship last week. He had nine points (three goals, six assists) in eight games at the tournament. Slovakia lost 4-2 to eventual champion Finland in the quarterfinals.

“I like to play strong in the corners, I’m good with the puck and also can create,” Slafkovsky said. “I think a lot of people think I cannot create, or that my hockey IQ is not that high, but I feel pretty OK with that. Of course, I think I can still work on that a little bit, but I think it’s going good for me.”

Cuckoo for Kulich

Jiri Kulich, who was named the most valuable player at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, interviewed with all 32 NHL teams this week.

“The teams want to know how I am as a player, as a person,” Kulich said. “I think I’m a shooter and a fast skater. But I think I have a good shot. I like to watch David Pastrnack (Boston Bruins) and I’ll try to do some of his highlights, but I think I have the same style of play as Jakub Vrana (Detroit Red Wings).”

Kulich (6-0 172) a center with Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, led all skaters with nine goals at the U-18 Worlds, the most by a Czech player in a single U-18 tournament.

“I hope I will be picked in the first round,” Kulich said. “I want to be the leader. I’m a team player. I know how to score some goals because I’ve always been the shooter. I just need to work on my play in the defensive zone.”

Kulich, No. 13 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters, said one more season in the Czech Republic might be good for his development.

“I think it’s better for me to play with the senior team in Karlovy, but I don’t have a problem playing in the Canadian Hockey League or the American Hockey League.”

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A ‘lion’ in net

Tyler Brennan, No. 1 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American goalies, was asked by one NHL team the type of animal that would best represent him in hockey.

“It just kind of caught me off guard a little bit and I had to think about that and came up with a lion just because it’s got good eyes and kind of just waits for the right time to strike,” Brennan said. “I think that kind of fits my personality on the ice.”

Brennan, who could be the first goalie off the board, interviewed with 20 NHL teams this week.

“Most of the questioning was on my style of play, strengths, weaknesses, what I’m working on, the type of goalie I am, and the mental side of the game since that’s huge with the position I play,” he said. “I’m a very calm goalie in the crease; not a lot of things rattle me. I handle pressure well and nerves don’t affect how I play. A big part of my game is bringing lots of energy, but at the same time you don’t want to be full of too much energy… just be calm and play the game.”

The 18-year-old (6-4, 184) was 11-25-2 with a 3.58 goals-against average, .899 save percentage and four shutouts in 39 regular-season games for Prince George of the Western Hockey League. He went 0-3 with a 1.86 GAA and .954 save percentage in four WHL playoff games.

Nemec in North America?

Simon Nemec, No. 3 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters, might be leaning toward continuing his hockey career in North America in 2022-23.

“Maybe the American Hockey League or, you never know, maybe the NHL,” Nemec said.

Nemec (6-0, 190), a right-shot defenseman for Nitra in Extraliga (SVK), had 26 points (one goal, 25 assists) in 39 regular-season games and 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 19 playoff games. He scored the most playoff points by a defenseman in one postseason in Extraliga history.

His CHL rights are held by Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and he said playing in the QMJHL isn’t something he is considering at this stage.

“No, I played two years against men in Extraliga, so I think it’s better for me to play in the AHL, if anything,” Nemec said. “This is something NHL scouts were asking me during the combine questions, and I tell them I want to play here.”

Nemec interviewed with 21 NHL teams at the combine.

“I think I’m the best defenseman in this draft,” Nemec said. “I think I’m a two-way defenseman, play really good on power play, my hockey IQ is at a very high level and my skating is good. I really like watching Cala Makar, Adam Fox or roman josi.”

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