While Rasmus Dahlin is as sure a top pick as you can get this year, Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov spent all season building a case for himself to go No. 2. And had he been healthy for the entire season, the debate over who should be the top selection may have been more active.
Here’s a look at Svechnikov, the top-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting.
Team: Barrie (OHL)
Position: Right Wing
From: Barnaul, Russia
Weight: 186 pounds
HE WAS NAMED THE CHL’S TOP PROSPECT OF THE YEAR
This wasn’t always the smoothest season for Svechnikov, but the end result was hugely positive.
Svechnikov started the season with a two-goal game in his OHL debut and was hot out of the gate with 14 points in his first 10 games. Unfortunately, injury struck the young forward and he was forced out of action for the next two months to heal his hand.
The then 17-year-old returned in mid-December, just in time to join Russia at the WJC. But that tournament includes 19-year-old players and, traditionally, Russian coaches lean on their older players at the event, so Svechnikov didn’t receive the same minutes or exposure as his draft-mates from other countries, but still managed five assists in five games.
Svechnikov’s OHL season really took off after returning from the WJC. The quick and powerful forward who drives to the net with the determination of a veteran sniper scored 26 goals in the final 28 regular season games. Despite playing just 44 OHL games overall, Svechnikov tallied 72 points to run away with the rookie lead by 18 and his 40 goals were eighth-most in the OHL — no one scored at a better per-game rate than he did.
“He just has such a great talent package. He’s got size. He skates very well. He can put the puck in the net,” explained The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy in a radio appearance on the FAN 650 in Vancouver. “I was talking to his old GM John Vanbiesbrouck, the former Rangers goaltender who had him at USHL Muskegon, and he said ‘This kid goes to the net like Mark Messier.’ And he says ‘I don’t say that as an illustrative point like you know, he does it like Mark Messier.’ He goes to the crease, he’ll pay the price…it’s going to be tough to pass on Svechnikov.”
Svechnikov added five goals and 11 points in eight playoff games for Barrie, but missed four games due to a suspension handed down by the league for a high hit in the Colts’ final regular season game. The decision to suspend him playoff games for the check caught many by surprise.
HE’S ‘PRETTY SURE’ HE’LL BE IN THE NHL NEXT SEASON
In an interview with Mike Morreale at NHL.com, Svechnikov said he was confident that he’s ready to make the step, should the team that calls his name want him in the NHL next season.
“I could never be 100 per cent certain, but I’m pretty sure I will,” he said. “I think I have everything for the NHL, like my speed, shot and I can play a physical game. I can play in any situation, and enjoy playing on the penalty kill just as much as playing on the power play.”
Svechnikov is the most likely player to go No. 2 overall to the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that needs offence far more than it does another blueliner. When asked about the prospect of joining the Hurricanes, he echoed the sentiment a lot of people have that the team is due for a breakout soon.
“That’s a team that looks like they’re on the way up,” Svechnikov said. “They have a lot of good young players, and that suits me well. I will be honoured to be selected by any NHL team; it’s my dream. I watched my brother get drafted, and it was great. It’s something I’ve dreamed for my whole life.”
HIS BROTHER PLAYS FOR THE DETROIT RED WINGS
Speaking of his brother, Evgeny Svechnikov was selected 19th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2015 out of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles organization. Evgeny has four points in 16 NHL games and spent most of this past season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, totalling seven goals and 23 points in 57 games.
“We have a great relationship and talk every day about hockey,” Andrei said. “He teaches me a lot about how to play any situation. We like the same things and try to do the same things out there. I’ll take whatever I can from watching him.”
BIG FAN OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ICE
As Eric Engels writes about in our Filip Zadina profile, you always have to ask the question about the comfort level European players have on the smaller ice surfaces used in North America. Svechnikov has adapted very well to this, winning the USHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2016-17 with a 29-goal, 58-point season in 48 games, then dominating OHL competition this season.
He said he’s grown to prefer the smaller ice because it forces the game to be played faster and much more physical.
In his first taste of the smaller ice on a regular basis, Svechnikov posted historical totals with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL in 2016-17. Just 16 years old at the time, his 1.208 points per game rate was the highest ever in that league for a U-17 player with at least 30 games played, just beating Clayton Keller’s mark of 1.156.