MONTREAL — The Canadiens chosen winger Juraj Slafkovsky with the primary pick within the N.H.L. draft Thursday night at their home arena, making him the primary player from Slovakia to be taken at No. 1 overall.
While Shane Wright, a Canadian center, was long considered the front-runner to be the highest pick, the Devils surprisingly chosen Simon Nemec, a Slovakian defenseman and Slafkovsky’s Olympic teammate, at No. 2 after Wright fell.
In one other surprise, the Arizona Coyotes took Logan Cooley, a middle from the Pittsburgh area, with the third pick before Wright’s slip stopped with the Seattle Kraken at No. 4. Wright said he’d have a chip on his shoulder and play with “slightly more fire” after getting omitted by three teams.
Slafkovsky, who was named the most beneficial player on the Beijing Olympics for leading the tournament with seven goals in seven games, began pondering he could possibly be chosen first overall after meeting the Canadiens on the N.H.L. scouting mix in Buffalo in June.
“I felt they were pretty interested,” said Slafkovsky, who was caught off guard when Montreal General Manager Kent Hughes announced his name. “Once I heard ‘from Slovakia’ I went, ‘Wow!’”
Slafkovsky and Nemec became the highest-drafted players from Slovakia 22 years after Marian Gaborik went third to the Minnesota Wild in 2000.
The Canadiens weren’t done making moves of their first time hosting the draft since 2009. They traded the 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov and a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Islanders for the thirteenth pick. Then they moved that selection and the 66th pick to Chicago for forward Kirby Dach, 21, who had 26 points in 70 games last season.
It was the second roster-dismantling move made Thursday by transitioning Chicago, which also traded winger Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators for picks No. 7 and 39 this yr and a third-rounder in 2024. DeBrincat, 24, matched his profession high of 41 goals last season.
The 6-foot-4 Slafkovsky, who has drawn comparisons to the Hockey Hall of Famer Clark Gillies and plays a bit like a young Jaromir Jagr, said he told the Canadiens on Thursday morning to take him.
Slafkovsky, who turned 18 in March, was amongst essentially the most N.H.L.-ready players available: He played against grown men in Finland this past season and impressed on the Olympics. He was the youngest player within the tournament and the most important reason Slovakia won bronze, its first Olympic men’s hockey medal.
He could soon play alongside the highest Canadiens forwards Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, who each scored over 20 goals last season.
Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher, whose team picked forward Cutter Gauthier fifth, said Wednesday he expected a whole lot of trades on the draft. Other general managers didn’t wait for the draft to begin to start dealing.
The Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche got the transactions began by acquiring goaltender Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers for a third- and a fifth-round pick on this draft and a third-rounder next yr. After the trade, Colorado didn’t have to worry an excessive amount of concerning the draft itself, because it was left with only two picks — one each within the sixth and seventh rounds.
Then Chicago sent DeBrincat to Ottawa. Chicago used the No. 7 pick that it acquired within the trade to pick out Kevin Korchinski, a Canadian defenseman.
N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman opened the primary in-person draft since 2019 in French by saying, “Bon soir, Montreal.” When fans booed him, as is tradition, he said: “Thanks for that welcome. It’s a return to normalcy.”
It was also the primary time the host team picked at No. 1 because the Toronto Maple Leafs chosen Wendell Clark in 1985. With rival Montreal hosting, the Leafs got the loudest boos during roll call, with some in the group chanting, “’67!” in reference to the newest yr Toronto won the Stanley Cup.
After Slafkovsky and Nemec became the highest-drafted players from Slovakia, Rutger McGroarty made some Nebraska hockey history when he went 14th to the Winnipeg Jets. McGroarty, an Omaha-born forward, became the highest-drafted player from the state.
Recent deaths in hockey were also recognized before the Canadiens went on the clock. Bettman asked those on the draft floor and within the stands to carry a moment of silence for the retired defenseman Bryan Marchment, who died at age 53 on Wednesday in Montreal, where he was attending the draft as a scout for the San Jose Sharks.
Children of the Hall of Famers Guy Lafleur and Mike Bossy, who each died in April, also addressed the group.