Prospect of Interest: Fedor Svechkov's intelligence spurs two-way prowess

After a 2020 NHL Draft that saw a pack of promising forwards vying for the top spots, the 2021 iteration figures to be about the opposite.

With a top five that could see just one forward’s name called, the 2021 NHL Draft looks set to be an opportunity for clubs most in need of help to shore up their defensive deficiencies, with no shortage of top-tier blue-line prospects to be plucked out of the class.

When things do move on to the forwards, another defensive gem will be there waiting too, in Fedor Svechkov, the Russian two-way centreman, who might just be the best defensive-minded forward in his draft class.

Here’s everything you need to know about him as draft day nears:

Team: SKA St. Petersburg
Position: Forward
Shoots: Left
Hometown: Togliatti, Russia
Age: 18 (Apr. 5, 2003)
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 179 pounds

Two-way talent

Ranked as the sixth-best European skater by NHL Central Scouting, and slotting in at No. 18 on Sam Cosentino’s prospect rankings from May, Svechkov brings a blend of high-end offensive skill and responsible two-play play, with his overall game skewing more towards the latter.

He’s been dubbed by many as one of the top defensive forwards in his class, with the potential to wind up as the top two-way talent of the 2021 crop. But the young Russian’s game won’t pull you to the edge of your seat like some of his other countrymen, won’t fill up big-league highlight reels with wild, dynamic, end-to-end plays. Rather, he thrives in the details.

“He’s not scary when he’s out there. What he is, though, is one of the most complete hockey players in the draft,” Scott Wheeler wrote of Svechkov in his comprehensive annual breakdown of the draft class. “He’s an excellent defensive player who has a knack for disrupting and lifting pucks, is always in sound position, and supports the play low before he even thinks about going the other way.”

It comes down to his intelligence, and his understanding of how to use the skill-set he possesses to have a greater overall impact on games than some might expect upon first viewing.

“He isn’t the best skater or the fastest skater in this draft class,” said Will Scouch, who analyzes top prospects by tracking data at the junior and pro level, in his recent breakdown of Svechkov’s game. “But he knows how to use his talents effectively to just be in the right place at the right time, or choose the right time to strike and try to strip the puck off an opponent. Svechkov just has this sense of control and stability in his game that I find universally translatable.”

More than his defence

Though his game is grounded in being responsible defensively, the two-way label betrays his full potential. While he's not an elite scorer necessarily, Svechkov has shown glimpses of offensive potential that could grow into meaningful production once he’s surrounded by quality linemates.

Finding that quality around him was harder to come by over his past few seasons with his hometown club, Ladia Togliatti, but the story was different when he suited up for Russia at the 2021 U-18 world championship, with Svechkov finishing among the tournament’s top 10 scorers, posting 10 points in seven games while helping lead Russia to a silver finish.

It isn’t that Svechkov is a hidden offensive dynamo, though. Rather, like the catalyst for his defensive success, he seems to understand how to get the most out of what he has.

“Fedor Svechkov, at his core, is just really, really smart,” said Scouch in his breakdown. “He finds open ice constantly, he supports linemates when the puck is away from him constantly, he makes little chip plays to move pucks around the ice really effectively a lot of the time when he’s on the ice. When I look at draft classes as a whole, he is part of a rare breed of hockey player, who just seems to know what needs to be done in order to get the job done, and he does it on a consistent enough basis that it really shines in the video that I’ve seen from him.”

That his production relies fundamentally on his intelligence, his overall understanding of the game and how best to position himself within it, means Svechkov finds success out on the ice more often than not, despite the limits of his skill-set.

“He has also managed to produce at a consistently high level against his peers despite lacking that high-end quality that most first-round forwards possess,” wrote Wheeler of the young Russian. “He’s able to do that for some of the same reasons he’s so effective without the puck: A lot of quick, smart plays and his understanding of spacing.”

He should get a chance to develop in a more skilful environment over the next couple seasons, as the young centreman was traded to SKA St. Petersburg at the end of this past campaign, and signed on to play with the top-tier KHL club through 2022-23.

Film Room

Understanding the intrigue around Svechkov isn’t as simple as reading a jaw-dropping stat line or seeing his name topping ranking after ranking. His is a skill-set that’s best appreciated by seeing it in action, to get a sense of how exactly he’s able to maximize what he’s got to remain a consistent two-way threat, and why he figures to be an intriguing add for any club in the top 15 of the 2021 NHL Draft.

A few plays that help illustrate how that defensive mindset and offensive skill connect:

First, a prime example of Svechkov using his intelligence to make up for what he lacks physically. Here, he cuts through the neutral zone and, understanding he can't simply blow by the opposition at the blue line, he draws a number of players towards him and safely tosses the puck into open space in the corner. Then he wins the race and deposits the puck safely back to a teammate on the blue line for good measure:

Or there’s this one, where Svechkov’s patience and quick hands aid in escaping pressure in his own zone:

Here, the young pivot reads the play and picks off a pass to set up a two-on-one in front of the opposing net:

Here, he's using his size along the boards to help a teammate exit the zone, then follows up on the rush to eventually get the puck back and pot one:

Again, though, he isn’t limited to astute defensive plays that lead to teammates’ success — here we see a couple deft passes from Svechkov to set up a goal:

And here, a slick cutback along the half-wall to get by one opposing player, a quick move to get by another, and a calm, collected pass to tee up a one-timer:

Needless to say, there's much to like about the 18-year-old's skill-set. The question is simply how much better he can be with NHL-calibre talent around him with which to utilize that high-end understanding of the game.

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