When Hurricanes fans envisioned No. 2 pick Andrei Svechnikov suiting up this season, they likely didn’t see him skating alonside Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook.
No disrespect to those two, but as bottom-six forwards they were expected to play a much different role than a player projected to be a prolific goal scorer and make an immediate impact. But head coach Rod Brind’Amour wanted to ease Svechnikov and allow him to learn the defensive game, so to the fourth line he went (it has since been upgraded to the third line).
As the team struggled to score during an extended slump after a slow start, there was a general hue and cry for Brind’Amour to shake up his lines, and move Svechnikov up. The coach held firm though, and other than some scattered shifts up in the lineup for Svechnikov, the trio stuck together.
Recently, a funny thing happened. Brind’Amour was proven right, and the trio started to click. They built chemistry, and their hard-nosed, forechecking style has produced four goals and 12 points in the past five games, a stretch that has seen the Canes win four of five and take possession of the East’s final wild card spot.
“We try to work as hard as we can every night,” Wallmark said. “And we try go have a good forecheck and that’s how we create our chances. When we have a good forecheck and we’re working hard so out there, and then we get the puck. We try to keep it pretty simple, try to take those pucks to the net. It’s come because of our forecheck.”
In addition to that forechecking style, Brind’Amour keeping the line together has allowed the three players to get comfortable with each other, and figure out how each other plays. They know what to expect from their linemates, and that familiarity has played a big role in the upswing in production.
“It’s building chemistry,” Wallmark said. “When you play with each other for more and more games, you know where your linemate’s going out there. It gives you confidence and you find each other more and more out there. I like that.”
Obviously, this early-season development for Svechnikov is critical, as he projects to be a cornerstone piece for the Hurricanes going forward. Being able to play with the same two linemates all season has allowed him to settle in, and his game is growing as the season goes along.
“The first month it was hard for us,” Svechnikov said. “We didn’t know each other. We didn’t have any chemistry together. After a month I think we got pretty good chemistry. I know where they’re going and they know where I’m going. For sure, they help me. They support me a lot.”
In a recent win over Toronto, Svechnikov played his most dominant game of the season, constantly creating chances on the forecheck and driving to the net.
Svechnikov’s confidence has also increased, which is likely a byproduct of the line spending so much time together.
“I think he’s comfortable,” Martinook said. “If he sees something out there, he’s comfortable with us to tell us what he sees. And obviously he’s a dynamic player; he’s smart. He sees some stuff out there that probably I don’t see and for him to come to me. I don’t know, if he would have been switching lines all year, he might not have that confidence to go up to his linemate.
Martinook has to be loving life playing with the two youngsters. He’s on pace to smash his previous career high of 11 goals, and scored his first NHL hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers last week.
For him, being able to play with talented young players who play a similar forechecking game to him has allowed him to cash in on the chances they create.
“I think it’s just a byproduct of how our line plays,” Martinook said. “If you look at all our chances, they pretty much come off the forecheck or Wally making a good play in the D-zone that can spring us. It’s just the byproduct of the type of guys we are.”
In addition to playing a key role for that line on the ice, Martinook also plays a key role off it for a rookie in Svechnikov and another young player in Wallmark. He’s served as their veteran leader, and helps to keep things light for them during the grind of an NHL season.
“Every line I kind of try and find little things before the game to do with my linemates,” Martinook said. “With [Wallmark], it’s just like a simple thing where I just come up to him and scream his name twice. With [Svechnikov], I yell at him ‘Mother Russia’ and we do this sort of thing.”
Every now and then, it turns out a coach knows what he’s doing. While it may have seemed to be the right thing for Brind’Amour to bump Svechnikov up off the line with Wallmark and Martinook, keeping it together has paid dividends.
The on-ice chemistry for those three has yielded increased production, and Martinook is playing a key role off the ice in mentoring Carolina’s prized rookie helping him adjust to professional hockey. Keeping a seemingly unlikely trio together is working, and proving that, sometimes, patience does pay off.