WINNIPEG — Evgeny Svechnikov began this training camp as an international man of mystery — with an air of intrigue surrounding him.
Why was a guy chosen 19th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft available on the scrap heap as an unrestricted free agent at the age of 24?
Was the Russian winger fully healthy after battling through a number of injuries that seemed to prevent him from ever sustaining much momentum during his time in the Detroit Red Wings organization, where he bounced back and forth between the big club and the minors?
What kind of things might Svechnikov actually bring to the table on this pro tryout offer he’s earned after signing an American Hockey League contract with the Manitoba Moose back in late August?
Was Svechnikov signed as an experienced option who could anchor a top line at the AHL level, a high-end finisher to perhaps play alongside someone like 2020 first-rounder Cole Perfetti?
Or might the prolific scorer with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League be able to rekindle the magic he once had with Pierre-Luc Dubois?
Well, after Svechnikov found himself in the lineup for a fourth consecutive exhibition game on Sunday night in a 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, some of the answers to the aforementioned questions are beginning to come into focus.
Although the full story on why things didn’t work out in the Motor City might need a bit more time to uncover, slowly but surely Svechnikov is inching his way toward a two-way NHL contract — and quite possibly a spot in the opening-day lineup on Oct. 13 when the Jets open a three-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks.
No, his spot is still not assured but after the Jets are expected to announce a number of cuts and get down to more manageable numbers leading into the final two exhibition games, Svechnikov remains very much in the mix.
Where exactly he fits in remains unclear but it’s apparent that Svechnikov has caught the attention of Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
“I’ve moved him around and moved him up. I’ve liked his camp,” Maurice said. “He doesn’t mind going to the net. He’s got some hands on him and he makes some good plays and I think he understands the game. How he fits with other people will be a really important thing for him going forward but he’s had a good camp. He’s done what he could do.”
Maurice isn’t about to hand out a spot to a bubble player with more than a week before the season opens, but to this point, it’s hard to imagine Svechnikov not being right in the thick of things to win one of the battles for the four available spots up front.
And if he continues his progression, it’s easy to envision Svechnikov pushing his way into a bigger role with the benefit of some additional time to feel comfortable.
He’s been able to flash some offensive gifts, both in terms of finish and passing ability. His compete level is high and he’s been able to process the new system he’s becoming more familiar with.
Plus, he’s demonstrated his ability to play right wing (as a left-handed shooter), which is where more of the opportunities are available.
Late in Sunday’s game, Svechnikov also showed he wasn’t afraid to mix things up — getting involved with Canucks captain Bo Horvat.
“I just want to win and I hate to lose,” Svechnikov told reporters in Vancouver. “I just want to get the puck in the net, whatever it is, that’s my area. You’re not going to take the puck away. It doesn’t matter if it’s my net, their net, I’m going to fight for it. I don’t care.”
Svechnikov is a skilled player with some size.
One of his biggest assets is a wicked shot and rapid release.
Although that hasn’t fully blossomed at the NHL level, Svechnikov clearly has the potential to provide some secondary scoring on a team with ample offensive talent sprinkled throughout the forward group.
For a team looking for some secondary scoring after the departure of Mason Appleton in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft and Mathieu Perreault in free agency, Svechnikov might end up being the equivalent of found money.
He’s trending to be a low-risk gamble that has the potential to pay out a significant reward, no matter where he ends up.
Having that ability to bounce up and down the lineup is a big-time benefit, especially at a time where players are adjusting back to playing a full 82-game season for the first time since 2019-20.
Svechnikov is not currently auditioning for a job on the Jets’ second line, but he got a chance to skate with Dubois and Andrew Copp on Sunday.
Knowing they’ve enjoyed plenty of success together at the junior level is surely something Maurice is going to file away for safe-keeping — realizing that’s a duo he can lean on if the opportunity arises.
Which brings us back to the present, where Svechnikov will enter a new week locked in a battle with several other forwards with similar goals in mind.
When you’ve been sent packing by an organization that invested a first-round selection and another four pro seasons of development, the urgency of the situation is not lost on the player.
“I try not to think about it, to be honest. Be ready to go with any line, whether it’s with (Dubois) or (David Gustafsson) or whatever, I try to go out and do my thing,” Svechnikov said. “It’s day-by-day. I just show up and work. I feel confidence every day, I’m making small steps every day.”
Sometimes it’s those small steps that lead to bigger opportunities.