Andrei Svechnikov has packed quite a bit into the first two years of his NHL career.
Since being picked second in the 2018 draft, Svechnikov followed a solid rookie season with a breakout sophomore year in which he became the first NHL player to successfully score a lacrosse-style goal (and did it again). He suffered a concussion in a fight with Alex Ovechkin in his first playoff action, and a significant lower body injury in a net-front tangle with Zdeno Chara in his second. Svechnikov has already seen, done and learned more than a lot of players do in their first two years.
Now, as he enters year three looking to continue his ascent, it’s clear Svechnikov has made leaps and bounds in terms of confidence and comfortability from his rookie year. It was clear watching his play on the ice last season, and in the Hurricanes’ abbreviated training camp so far. It’s clear in his answers to interview questions. And it’s a sentiment that he agrees with.
“I think I’m pretty comfortable, to be honest,” Svechnikov said. “My first year, I came here, I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know the system, how to play hockey in the NHL. Obviously, I got more confident. I got to know how to play in every situation and every system. So it’s going to be way easier than my first two years.”
But that comfort doesn’t mean Svechnikov doesn’t still want to grow his game. He said he wants to improve everywhere, including being more of a leader for the team. And, looking at the leap he made from year one to year two, no one should doubt Svechnikov’s desire to grow.
In a mostly sheltered role from head coach Rod Brind’Amour, Svechnikov produced a solid season in just 14:39 per game. He posted 37 points and hit the 20-goal mark, despite receiving minimal power-play time and not scoring a single goal on the man advantage.
In his second year, as Svechnikov made the necessary improvements to his all-around game, Brind’Amour’s trust in him grew, as did his role and production. Svechnikov’s ice time increased to 16:44 per game, and he scored 24 goals and 61 points in just 68 regular-season games. He earned a spot on the top power-play unit, and scored six goals with the Canes a man up.
The 20-year-old Russian winger blossomed rapidly into the elite goal sorcerer the Canes drafted, with a heavy wrist shot and strong power game. The lacrosse goals were just a bonus.
As Svechnikov looks to make another leap in year three, it’s something Brind’Amour’s counting on. He’s seen it before, after all.
“As far as development, I think he’s just going to keep getting better and better,” Brind’Amour said. “He came in as a kid, and he’s still a young man, but his willingness to get better is why he’s going to keep getting better. He’s working out, getting stronger. All his skills are there. Now you add the strength, and to me, the confidence that he’s gained, he’s just going to continue to grow.”
Not that there won’t be challenges for Svechnikov. As his prowess grows, so too will his reputation, and the amount of attention he receives from defenders in the offensive zone.
But that’s something Svechnikov’s faced before in his hockey career, and he’s confident in his ability to adapt.
“It’s kind of like when I played my junior hockey, it was always like that,” Svechnikov said. “I’m always ready. I’m going to do what I can do. Especially on the power play, when I walk in from the left side and try to shoot, sometimes guys know I’m going to shoot that puck, so they try to come to me right away. But there’s always some ways you can pass the puck or shoot through him, so I’m going to try to do that.”
Another major challenge Svechnikov, like every player in the league, will face is diving right into a short season where every game means more, following a short training camp with no exhibition games.
Svechnikov said he likes playing the exhibition games to get a feel for the game, but knows the team will do its best with scrimmages and intense practices to be ready for the season. He knows everyone’s been training hard in preparation. He’s included in that group, and, as Brind’Amour mentioned, that training should pay dividends in terms of added strength.
“I think I added some muscle, because I’ve been working out for three or four months,” Svechnikov said. “Obviously I got stronger and faster. It was my goal, I’ve been working out hard. So we’ll see what the effect is going to be on the ice.”
One of the aspects of this unique season gives Svechnikov an added bonus to look forward to. The Canes will play in a division with the Detroit Red Wings, the team of his older brother, Evgeny Svechnikov.
If the arm injury Evgeny reportedly suffered during Red Wings practice Tuesday isn’t too serious, then the Svechnikovs should get a chance to face off this season with Carolina and Detroit scheduled to play eight times. And it would be the first time in their hockey careers the brothers Svechnikov have lined up as opponents.
“I actually start thinking about that everyday when I go to sleep,” Svechnikov said. “It’s going to be so much fun to play against each other. It was kind of our little dream to play against each other. So it’s going to be a lot of fun. Maybe if I see him on the first shift, I’ll try to hit him or something. We’ll see.”
Whether it’s his brother, or anyone else in the new Central Division, that he’s lined up against, a stronger, faster, more confident Svechnikov should be a force to be reckoned with. As the Hurricanes look to achieve their ultimate goal of competing for a Stanley Cup, they’ll need a further-improved Svechnikov to take center stage.
If the first two years of his career are anything to judge by, he’ll be ready.