Bloodlines in hockey are a rather common theme, from fathers to brothers, or even sisters.
Meanwhile, nicknames throughout the sport can usually be divided into two distinct groups, they are either rather boring — where somebody simply adds a ‘y’ or ‘er’ to the end of their name — or they can be truly entertaining with a fascinating origin.
Then, there are goalies, who sometimes exist in their own distinct world.
Mix the three ideas together and you never know what you’re going to get. Perhaps the best hat trick possible.
Enter, Hampton Slukynsky.
He’s an 18-year-old netminder who has largely been playing high school hockey.
Yet, last week, the LA Kings selected him in the fourth round (118th overall) at the 2023 NHL Draft. Of the 224 players who heard their names called, he was one of only 26 goaltenders.
“My brother is three years older than me,” began Slukynsky, as we began our initial conversation. “When I was going to be born, my parents told him my name was going to be Hampton. He said, ‘I’ll call him Hammer.’ It stuck from there. Since I was born, everybody has called me Hammer.”
Not only did he arrive in Los Angeles this week with a cool nickname, Slukynsky has an even better backstory. It’s also one that doesn’t line up with his confidence. He carries himself and communicates like few teenagers in the game. Everything from Slukynsky’s posture, to the tone of his voice, to the words he uses, conveys a belief that he’s not just good, he’s really good. Yet, it’s all from an inner belief in his abilities, rather than derived from playing on the biggest stages like so many of his counterparts at the Draft.
“I live in a tiny town of about 700 people in Northern Minnesota, six miles from Canada,” he said.
In fairness, he’s from Warroad, MN. It may be small, but 16 NHL players have been drafted from there since 1969. A stat that doesn’t make any logical sense.
Prior to this year, it had been over a decade since another Warroad native was taken. Brock Nelson became the only first rounder of the bunch that year too, going to the New York Islanders in 2010.
Since the analytics on this extremely small town defy logic anyway, Slukynsky wasn’t the only one from this year’s NHL Draft class. Fellow Warroad hockey player Jayson Shaugabay was also selected in the fourth round; Tampa Bay selected him just four picks ahead of LA taking their newest goaltending prospect.
“There aren’t a lot of goalie coaches up there,” Slukynsky noted. “So, I’ve just never had one. I kind of just played for fun and worked hard at it; I’ve done my own thing. I’d stay on after practice, when nobody’s on the ice, whatever I could do. I would learn from YouTube videos and stuff like that.”
He also has a pitching machine in his basement.
“Back home, we don’t have ice for about two or three months in the summer, so I got the skills machine to stay sharp off the ice,” he explained. “I heard about it on a podcast one time, so I looked it up. When I found out they were only 40 or 50 bucks, I got one. It’s been in my basement ever since and I use the pitching machine for 30-45 minutes every day. All year long, actually, but especially a lot in the summer. Those little yellow balls used in the skills pitching machines, they curve a little bit, so it’s good.”
And that turned him into an NHL prospect?
“It just goes along with all the hard work, right?” added Slukynsky. “I mean, if you’re not doing that, you have to do all the extra stuff to get picked by an NHL team. I never thought it was even possible for me, as a player, until probably last year. Honestly, I wasn’t really on the radar much.”
No doubt, the last 12 months or so made a huge difference in his Draft profile. Slukynsky was asked to be part of the U.S. team at last summer’s prestigious Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. He played two games at the tournament, posting a .926 save percentage.
He was just getting started, though.
During his just completed senior season at Warroad High School, the 6-foot-1 netminder put together a 28-1-1 record over 30 games played. That came with a 1.47 goals against average and staggering .941 SV%. His only loss came in double-overtime. And his nine shutouts were second-most in the entire state of Minnesota.
It earned him this year’s Frank Brimsek Award; which is basically the Mr. Hockey award for goalies.
“I had a good run there, a good high school season,” he said with a high degree of modesty, almost as if he was trying to downplay the whole thing. “At that point, though, I definitely started thinking there was a chance. When I got the call that I was drafted by LA, I was pretty excited.”
His run is far from over too.
After attending Dev Camp this week, Slukynsky is off to join a bunch of World Junior hopefuls. He’s one of three goalies invited by Team USA to their annual evaluation camp.
“It’s crazy,” he stated with a flood of enthusiasm. “Playing high school hockey last year, for a full year, and then getting an invite to the World Junior camp, that doesn’t happen a lot. So, obviously, I’m pretty excited and it’s crazy. Every Christmas time, watching the U.S. at the World Juniors… it’s really exciting to possibly have a chance to make that team.”
Spoken like a true goalie, his favorite World Junior memory came with an understandable hook — “When the U.S. beat Canada 2-0 and Spencer Knight had that shutout…” said Slukynsky, as his eyes grew bigger, and his head started nodding in approval.
Circling back to the Kings, some of the credit for finding him goes to scout Andy Johnson. He’s the newest member of Mark Yannetti’s staff, having only joined about a year ago, replacing longtime American scout Tony Gasparini.
Johnson was the GM of USHL Sioux City when Slukynsky attended their training camp as an invitee several years ago.
“He knew who I was and I think he watched me a couple times this year — maybe more than a couple,” said the young goalie with a bit of chuckle. “I definitely talked to him quite a bit.”
Slukynsky’s brother Grant, the one who coined the ‘Hammer’ nickname, is heading off to Northern Michigan in a few months. This past season, he proudly served as the team captain in Sioux City. Previously, he skated one year with the Fargo Force, which is where Hampton will play this coming season before heading off to college at… yes, Northern Michigan.
“Obviously, my brother is committed there; he’s known the coaches for three or four years,” said the Kings newest goaltending prospect. “So I felt really comfortable with them. I like them a lot and I think we’ll have a good team when I get there, so I’m really looking forward to it. They showed interest in me right away. I talked to probably 10 or 12 other college teams, and I committed pretty early for a goalie. They really liked me a lot. Some other schools were kind of hesitant because I’m a goalie playing high school hockey in Minnesota, right? You don’t know how they’re going to turn out, or what they’re going to do, or how they’re going to be. While some places were hesitant, Northern liked me – they knew our family, they knew me, so they trust us and I think it’s going to be a good fit for me.”
Go get ’em, Hammer.
Lead photo via Daniel Stopani
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