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Top pick joins Canadiens for opener vs. Leafs

Oct 3, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens left wing Juraj Slafkovsky (20) looks towards his left during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

Juraj Slafkovsky, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, will be with the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night when they open their season against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I think I improved my game, skating and winning the pucks and doing the right things,” Slafkovsky, 18, said of his performance in training camp. “But still, there’s a lot of the things I’m still not doing and I still need to do better and better. I still need to do them better. I’m happy that I am here and I will try to do them better.”

Slafkovsky was at left wing on a line with Christian Dvorak and Brendan Gallagher at practice on Monday.

Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said the goal for his team this season is to “grow.”

“Grow as a team,” he said.

The Canadiens already are dealing with injuries.

Center Nick Suzuki and defenseman Joel Edmundson both suffered lower-body injuries when they collided during an on-ice session just before the start of training camp.

Suzuki played in one preseason game before being sidelined with an upper-body injury. Edmundson, who was out all camp with a back injury, resumed skating Monday but there is no timetable for his return to the lineup.

Suzuki was on the ice for practice Monday, but right winger Joel Armia (upper-body injury) was placed on the injured reserve list and defenseman Mike Matheson (lower-body injury) is listed as day-to-day.

The Maple Leafs pared their roster by assigning veteran forwards Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford to their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, after they cleared waivers.

“It’s the reality of where we’re at with the (salary) cap,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Clifford and Simmer are guys who mean a lot to our team and our dressing room. We’re hopeful that they’re still part of this. If you’re carrying a bigger roster, those guys are here. What we feel they can bring, that doesn’t change, it’s just the system is what it is. We had to make decisions.”

Maple Leafs captain John Tavares (oblique muscle strain) appears ready to start the season on Wednesday.

Nick Robertson will start the season with the Marlies, while Denis Malgin starts ahead of him on the Maple Leafs’ second line. Zach Aston-Reese has earned a fourth-line role.

“The fact Malgin requires waivers works in his favor and in Nick’s case against him,” Keefe said. “Which is the reality of the cap and carrying a very short roster. You’re going to have players who would otherwise start in the NHL have to start in the American (Hockey) League.”

Matt Murray will start in goal on Wednesday with Ilya Samsonov set to start Toronto’s home opener Thursday night against his former team, the Washington Capitals.

The Leafs will be led by the first line of Michael Bunting, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and defenseman Morgan Rielly.

Matthews scored 60 goals last season in 73 games.

The Maple Leafs set a franchise record with 115 points last season but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the sixth consecutive time.

Toronto added Murray and Samsonov, center Calle Jarnkrok and right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel. The departures included goaltender Jack Campbell, forwards Jason Spezza (to the front office), Ilya Mikheyev and Ondrej Kase, and defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin.

–Field Level Media

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