It was a matter of when - not if - Andrei Svechnikov’s break-through would happen, and fortunately for the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s happening in the midst of the team’s stretch run, on the verge of ending a nine-year playoff drought.
“It’s been coming, right?” head coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Svechnikov’s growing impact on Sunday after the rookie’s overtime goal capped off a come-from-behind win over Montreal. “We’ve been saying it all year and, obviously, we’re throwing him out there in key situations now and in overtime.”
It’s certainly been coming for Svechnikov. Dating back to Carolina’s road trip through Nashville, Colorado and Columbus, he’s been constantly knocking on the door alongside line mates Jordan Staal and Teuvo Teravainen, a trio that has turned into the Canes’ most dominant forward line in the month of March.
Since their stop in Denver, the Canes are 5-2-0 and have scored 20 goals, ten of which have been scored with multiple members of the Staal line on the ice. Svechnikov has five goals, Staal has three, Teravainen has one, and Dougie Hamilton crashed the slot to score a goal against Tampa Bay after a power move to the net from young Svechnikov that followed a breakout pass from Staal.
Even before this recent stretch of red-hot offense, Svechnikov had been getting his chances, albeit with the likes of Jordan Martinook, Lucas Wallmark, and Brock McGinn on his line. His shot density chart paints a clear picture. He goes to the net and gets high-quality scoring chances.
While Martinook, Wallmark, and McGinn are all quality players for an NHL bottom six, they pale in comparison to Staal and Teravainen.
Sharing the ice with those two high-level players has been a game-changer for Svechnikov. With Svechnikov and Teravainen on the ice together this season at 5-on-5 (161:15 TOI), the Canes have a 58.75% corsi and high-danger shot attempt share to go with a 72.73% goal share (eight goals for to just three against).
Adding the two-way center that Jordan Staal is into the fray makes those numbers pop even more. That trio has seen 96:31 of 5-on-5 ice time, wherein the Canes have a 62.87% corsi share, a 59.8% high-danger shot attempt share, and most importantly, an 80% goal share (four goals for, one goal against).
When you think about it, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that this line is as thoroughly dominant as they are. Staal’s straight-line-power two-way game results in the Canes having the puck far more often than not, Teravainen’s playmaking ability and puck skills in tight spaces is elite, and Svechnikov’s ability to capitalize on scoring chances makes it so that, when they get the opportunities to score, they’re going to have a strong chance of cashing in on them.
And while the top line centered by Sebastian Aho hasn’t been nearly as productive as they were in late February and early March, the flip side is that Brind’Amour trusts them to play against other teams’ top players and shut them down, which frees up the red-hot second line to feast in the offensive zone against more favorable matchups.
Side note: It wouldn’t at all surprise me if we find out that Aho has been playing with an injury or two down the stretch. His current play screams of fatigue and not being 100%. Despite that, he has still been excellent in his own end, on the PK, and he’s still generating offense.
For a young player, confidence is the key to everything, and it’s hard to not be confident when you’re getting inflated minutes, sharing the ice with excellent line mates, and putting up the numbers that the teenager has been producing as of late - five goals and seven points in his last seven games.
“I’m super confident right now,” Svechnikov said after his game-winning goal against the Canadiens. “(I’m just trying to) go out there, play my game, and enjoy it.”
He has the confidence of his coach, as well. Brind’Amour has spent the whole year trying to ease Svechnikov into being a relied-upon offensive contributor. The rookie has had to earn everything that he has gotten, and now the reigns are being taken off of him.
“You love the confidence that he has,” Brind’Amour said. “He feels it, and he’s earned the right to be out there (in big moments). That’s the whole key. Just build and build.”
As the Hurricanes’ stretch run continues, you can count on Svechnikov seeing plenty of ice time and getting the opportunity to produce in important situations.
“We’re relying on him a lot and he’s playing big minutes,” Brind’Amour said last week. “You can’t rely on a player unless he’s going to be responsible, and he has been. He’s still learning every day, but he’s going to be a really, really good player in this league for a long time.”
A long time, indeed. Andrei Svechnikov turns 19 years old on Tuesday and will do so as a 20-goal scorer in the National Hockey League.