BEIJING (AP) The best player so far in the men’s hockey tournament at the Olympics is also the youngest.
Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovsky is six weeks shy of his 18th birthday and is already drawing comparisons to Jaromir Jagr. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound forward is tied for the most Olympics goals with four. Slovakia coach Craig Ramsay says Slafkovsky actually reminds him of New York Islanders Hall of Famer and great Clark Gillies.
“He’s big and he’s strong, he skates well and he’s a great boy,” Ramsay said. “Sslavy has the obvious advantage of being so big and so strong, but he has good feet. It’s not just a big slug. He can skate, he can jump, he can handle the puck and now that he’s throwing the puck a little more, you’re starting to see some good things happening.
Slafkovsky, American striker Sean Farrell and Swedish center Lucas Wallmark have been the stars of the tournament so far. Wallmark tied Slafkovsky in goals and Farrell leads the Olympics with six points.
“I feel good,” said Farrell, who plays at Harvard. “I found chemistry with my linemates, (Noah) Cates and (Ben) Meyers, straight away and I think we played well 5v5 and caused a lot of havoc in the O zone and luckily we’ could bury our chances.
Farrell is 3 of 3 shooting for his three goals. Ramsay is just happy that Slafkovsky — who is expected to be in the top 10, if not the top five, in the NHL Draft this summer — is putting the puck on net instead of delaying it.
In the first three games, Slafkovsky scored all of Slovakia’s goals.
“Before the tournament, if someone told me that I would score even one or two goals, I would laugh,” Slafkovsky said. “But actually it’s happening, and I’m pretty happy.”
While Slafkovsky surprised himself, Ramsay expected this kind of performance from the 17-year-old. Put Slovakia general manager Miroslav Satan in the impressed department.
“I enjoy his game,” said Satan, who scored nine goals in eight games at the Lillehammer 1994 Olympics aged 19. “He is two years younger than me at my first Olympic Games. It was time for him to show that he can be a goalscorer.
The same goes for Wallmark, who scored just 24 goals in 204 regular season and NHL playoff games with Carolina, Florida and Chicago. Three of his four at the Olympiques came on the power play.
“I didn’t play the powerplay a lot there, so of course that helps,” Wallmark said. “I just try to open up and want the puck in the offensive zone. I just try to find the net, and when you play with good players it’s a lot easier.
Slafkovsky makes it look easy and would like to try the center at some point. Even after Slafkovsky struggled to position himself at the world championships, Ramsay thinks Slafkovsky could take on those responsibilities, but the focus of this tournament is to produce and now try to put Slovakia ahead of Germany and in the quarter-finals, where they would face the United States.
While Slafkovsky and Slovakian defender Simon Nemec are the only 2022 draft-eligible prospects at the Olympics, the United States has three players selected in the first round over the past two years.
Farrell was a fourth-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2020, but coach David Quinn has been hearing about him for years. Assistant Scott Young coached Farrell in youth hockey in Massachusetts.
“Talk about a highly skilled, highly competitive player with a high engine,” Quinn said of Farrell, who is listed at 5-foot-9. “He certainly doesn’t let his size stop him from being productive, he’s tough to play against and he’s played really well for us in a short time.”
Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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