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'Surprised' Slovak teen scorer boosts NHL draft stock in Beijing
There might be no NHL stars at the Winter Olympics but Slovakia has one in the making in 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky, who has surprised even himself in topping the scoring charts in Beijing.
Considered a top prospect for the NHL's July draft, the big forward -- he's 1.92-metre (6-foot-3) tall -- has sent his stock soaring with his nose for goal.
He has scored four times in three games at the Games, including in Sunday's 5-2 win over Latvia.
Slafkovsky, who plays pro hockey in Finland, is the youngest player to ever represent Slovakia in Olympic hockey and is going up against some veterans twice his age in Beijing.
"If someone would have told me before coming here that I would score one goal I would laugh, but actually it is happening," said Slafkovsky, who came to the competition intending merely to learn.
"I am pretty surprised. I was coming here for some other role and I am just so happy it is working so well.”
Slovakia's coach Craig Ramsey, a Canadian former NHL veteran, is also pleasantly surprised.
“We were just hoping he would get one goal here and instead he is scoring every game,” Ramsey said.
“Not only is he big, but he has good feet and a great set of hands."
Playing in Group C, the Slovaks lost to group favourites Finland and then to Sweden before notching Sunday's victory.
Slafkovsky will have a chance to add to his tally in the playoff round.
The top four nations in the 12-team event at the end of the preliminary round move directly to the quarterfinals.
Slovakia will be among the remaining eight teams fighting to advance out of Tuesday's qualification play-off.
“He is a great player with a great future and we are excited for him," his teammate Tomas Jurco said.
“His big advantage is he is big and he is strong on the puck. That is something that young guys do not have too often.”