If 20 even-strength goals in his age-18 rookie season weren’t enough to convince you that Andrei Svechnikov was on the path to NHL stardom, his sophomore season should have erased all doubt that he is well on his way to being one of the best players in the league.
Among all U21 players in the NHL last season, Svechnikov led the way in goals (24) and points (61). Among U21 forwards, he led in each primary offensive statistic. His game grew by leaps and bounds over his rookie year, and there were many reasons for that.
Unlike most young players in the league, it had very little to do with him getting “bigger” or “stronger” or “faster.” He’s a special player in many ways, but among those ways is that he entered the league as a fully-built NHL forward from a physical and athletic perspective.
What changed from year one to year two is confidence. Rod Brind’Amour has talked about it often, and he’s right when he says that Svechnikov didn’t know what he could and couldn’t get away with as an 18-year-old. That’s not a knock against him; it’s just a fact of life for any young star breaking into the NHL.
It took almost no time for Svechnikov to start making dynamic, game-changing plays as a second-year player that he didn’t feel comfortable doing as a rookie. His playmaking ability reached an entirely different level from the outset of the season as he compiled several gorgeous primary assists in the opening two weeks of the season, and the Hurricanes got off to a team-record 5-0-0 start.
From start to finish, it wasn’t a steady stream of big numbers, though. There were games where he didn’t pop off with big offensive moments, but it was a tangible improvement from his rookie year, and that’s exactly what you want to see out of a player like him in the early stages of his career - progression.
Then, of course, Oct. 29, 2019 happened.
Down 1-0 against the Calgary Flames at PNC Arena, the Hurricanes had no answer for David Rittich, whose goaltending had carried the Flames through the first two. But with 10:47 left in the third period, Svechnikov officially arrived on the NHL landscape.
Everyone remembers that goal, but what he did just over three minutes later deserves its own praise. With 7:25 to go in that game, he fired a perfect snapshot under the glove of Rittich to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead that held up through the remainder of the game.
Late in a one-goal game, he took control and dictated the game's result by turning a destined hard-fought, one-goal loss into a rousing home-ice win to close out the opening month of the season.
That’s what superstars do.
As a 19-year-old, Svechnikov flirted with a point-per-game season, finishing with 24 goals and 61 points in 68 games played. His role on the team blossomed as he saw his average ice time jump from 14:39 as a rookie to 16:44 in year two. He enjoyed a new place in the lineup, as well.
It was well-documented that the Canes coaching staff had a tight leash on him as a rookie. He skated with Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook on the team’s third line for most of the year, and he was a non-factor on the power play.
That changed last season as he was deployed as a true top-six player. His most frequent deployment was on a line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, a trio that rendered 21 goals for to just 13 goals against. That line ranked fifth among all NHL lines with north of 200 5-on-5 minutes, producing 4.82 goals-for per 60.
He was bumped up to top power-play unit duties last year, as well. In that role, he racked off 6 goals and 20 points on the man advantage after failing to record a single power-play goal as a rookie. The only Hurricane with more power-play production was Teravainen (21 power-play points).
As impressive as his offensive production was, though, that wasn’t the only area where he experienced massive growth.
He trailed only Teravainen among Carolina forwards in corsi share, finishing the shortened season with a 57.04% corsi-for rate. He also finished second among Canes forwards with 56.77% expected goals-for and 57.3% scoring chances-for rates.
His heat map echoes his development in those areas.
It helps that he got ice time with better players, but he took a significant step forward in limiting chances against while maintaining an excellent rate of producing chances for his team.
Year over year, Svechnikov improved in almost all aspects of his game and he did it all before turning 20.
His final act, then as a 20-year-old player in the play-in round and first round of the playoffs, was a resounding statement that his best is still to come.
En route to logging seven points in six postseason games inside the bubble, he became the first player in franchise history to score a playoff hat trick and the eighth-youngest player in NHL history to do so.
Andrei Svechnikov becomes the first player in franchise history to record a playoff hat trick. Sebastian Aho stole the puck at the Carolina blue line and set up Svech for his 3rd goal of the game. The Hurricanes are up 4-1 late against the Rangers. pic.twitter.com/sl9DjQccTQ— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) August 3, 2020
That all brings us to today. As the Hurricanes prepare for another season with rising expectations, Svechnikov will be at the center of everything they do. So what’s next for him, you might ask?
“I want to improve everywhere, especially to be a leader of the team, to be one of them,” Svechnikov said after day three of training camp on Wednesday. “To be a better player and help win those games for the team. I think that’s what’s most important.”
Fresh off of being honored as the team’s Steve Chiasson Award winner, which was voted on by his teammates and is given annually to the Canes player that best exemplifies determination and dedication through his performance and approach to the game, his focus is to become an even bigger part of the leadership core of the team.
There is a lot to be excited about regarding his future, but perhaps his most impressive trait is his character. That’s why, among many other things, Brind’Amour believes that he will keep getting better and better.
“His willingness to get better is why he is going to keep getting better.”