Blackhawks goalie prospect Adam Gajan has already witnessed Connor Bedard’s skill

Gajan, whom the Hawks drafted 35th last week, was the goaltender victimized by Bedard in his famous world-juniors highlight. But Gajan’s overall performance for Slovakia still caught the Hawks’ eye in a good way.

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The Blackhawks chose goalie Adam Gajan with the 35th pick in last week’s NHL draft.

The Blackhawks chose goalie Adam Gajan with the 35th pick in last week’s NHL draft.

George Walker IV/AP

For the famous goal in the world junior championship in January that made Connor Bedard a global icon, Blackhawks second-round pick Adam Gajan had a view shared by no one else.

He watched Bedard deke past his right pad and tap the puck into the net.

Indeed, Gajan was the goaltender for the Slovakian team that Bedard’s instant highlight-reel goal eliminated in the quarterfinals. In a strange twist, he and Bedard are now Hawks prospects.

“We met at the [scouting] combine in the gym,” Gajan said at the draft. “I told him, ‘Well, maybe now we’ll be teammates.’ Now he’ll just score on me in practice and not in a game.”

The other funny part of the story is that despite the tournament’s enduring highlight depicting a less-than-ideal moment for Gajan, his overall tourney performance put him on the Hawks’ radar in a good way — eventually leading to his selection, earlier than projected, with the 35th overall pick. Hawks scouting director Mike Doneghey called the world juniors Gajan’s “coming-out party.”

Gajan, a native of the mountain town of Poprad, was initially designated to be Slovakia’s third-string goalie. But a surprise came after the team’s first- and second-string goalies struggled in a 5-2 tournament-opening loss to Finland.

“I wasn’t supposed to play any games,” Gajan said. “[But] the first game didn’t go well, and at a morning skate before the [second] game against the USA, the goalie coach told me that I was going in.’’

Gajan immediately thrived, saving 33 of 36 shots in a 6-3 upset victory against the United States, then posting a 28-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Latvia.

Even in the loss to Canada, Gajan had stopped 53 of 56 shots before Bedard’s eruption, just about single-handedly getting Slovakia into overtime against the overwhelming favorites. He admitted he was so tired that he “doesn’t remember much” about the decisive play.

Six months later, Gajan is the Hawks’ first drafted goalie since 2020 (Drew Commesso) and highest-drafted goalie since 2001 (when they regretfully took Adam Munro with the 29th pick).

As he moves on from Chippewa of the NAHL to Green Bay of the USHL next season, then to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2024-25, his progress will be interesting to follow.

Slovak generation

Gajan also shares plenty of connections with forward Martin Misiak, whom the Hawks selected with the 55th pick.

Their hometowns are only 60 miles apart, they’ve known each other since they were 10, they played on the Slovakian world-juniors team — although Misiak found himself further away from the spotlight with no points in three games — and they’re part of a golden generation of young players in Slovakia.

After only four Slovaks were picked in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 drafts combined, six were picked in 2022 — including the Nos. 1 and 2 overall picks, Juraj Slafkovsky (Canadiens) and Simon Nemec (Devils) — and eight were picked in 2023, including No. 10 pick Dalibor Dvorsky (Blues).

“We’ve all known each other; there’s super-good chemistry,” Misiak said. “We had played, like, 300 games together even before the national team started. That shows the work that we did. I’m super-happy the Slovakian guys are getting drafted as much as they can be.”

Misiak did jump the Atlantic to spend this past spring with Youngstown of the USHL, but it hasn’t been determined where he’ll play next season. Doneghey said several Canadian junior teams are trying to acquire his rights.

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