The Carolina Hurricanes should consider themselves lucky. No, they’re not lucky for having a team play at a 100+ point pace in the remainder of the season after stumbling into December. No, they’re not lucky for having two goaltenders exceed expectations and steal games from them in a tight playoff race.
Instead, on the eve of the draft lottery, it’s time to realize how fortunate the Hurricanes were that a ping-pong ball fell in their favor around this time last year and sky rocketed them from 11th on the draft board to 2nd despite just a 4% chance. At the time, Hurricanes then-president Don Waddell was elated to secure the second overall pick and have the chance for the Hurricanes to select an elite prospect. “Now you put another big asset into your team,” Waddell said after the results came in. “To have that kind of asset that you didn’t have when the day started, it makes it more appealing for what we have going on right now in Raleigh.”
The appealing prize waiting for them at the top? That would be Andrei Svechnikov.
Svechnikov has been everything the Hurricanes could have wanted and more in his rookie season. It’s unlikely that he will capture the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie with Elias Pettersson most likely running away with the trophy after having one of the best rookie seasons in Vancouver Canucks history. But Svechnikov’s contributions and importance to the franchise can not be forgotten moving forward.
The Russian rookie registered 37 points, scoring 20 goals and adding 17 assists. His 20 goals tied him for third among all rookies and his points total set him at 7th among rookies in scoring. While his numbers may not be eye-popping initially, he provided game-breaking offense at opportune times, especially in the Hurricanes 2-1 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on March 24th in the middle of a contentious playoff race.
His advanced numbers tell an even more promising story. According to HockeyViz.com, Svechnikov’s shot attempts came mostly around high-danger areas, especially right in front which benefited the Hurricanes greatly at 5 on 5 when he was on the ice.
He posted an impressive 56.3 CF% which ranked 8th on a team whose possession numbers stood out. While his point totals may not have exceeded Petterson’s, Svechnikov was a better puck possession player than his rookie counterpart as the Vancouver forward finished at 51.4% CF.
At the beginning of the season, Rod Brind’Amour was hesitant to use the rookie too much, and stuck him on the third line with minimal minutes. Svechnikov finished the season with an average of 14:39 on ice per game, which finished below Lucas Wallmark. However, as often happens between NHL head coaches and their young forwards, Brind’Amour began to trust Svechnikov more down the stretch, and his numbers benefited as a result.
In a stretch of important games from March 11-24, Svechnikov had one of his best stretches of the season, registering five goals and two assists. He seemingly is unfazed by important games, which could serve the Hurricanes well in their first round series against the Washington Capitals.
With Sebastian Aho’s meteoric rise, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Finnish forward emerge as one of the premier players in the league as early as next season. But if there’s any indication by what fans and players have seen so far, Svechnikov may not be far behind. It doesn’t seem out of the equation to project or even write in Svechnikov for 50-60 points next season, barring any injuries. Between the physical gifts and elite shot, the Russian rookie has all the tools to blossom into a one-two punch with Aho. Add Martin Necas to the equation next season or in the future and you could potentially have a three-headed monster that could compete with much of the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference.
So on the eve of the 2019 NHL Draft lottery with teams hoping to have a chance at drafting American center Jack Hughes, the Hurricanes should be thanking their lucky stars that they were able to cash in their lottery ticket for Andrei Svechnikov.