While a lot of attention was focused on what Rasmus Dahlin was going for the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, the guy that went after him in the draft was making magic of his own at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
Right winger Andrei Svechnikov was excellent in his tournament debut, setting up a couple of goals in a 4-1 Carolina win over what should be a strong St. Louis Blues team.
Svechnikov played on the top line with center Martin Necas and AHLer Janne Kuokkanen. They saw a lot of the Blues’ No. 1 unit early, an intimidating line featuring Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and Nolan Stevens. For the first couple of shifts, the Blues crew hemmed in the Canes’ top line very effectively, but once the Carolina kids got rolling, the game was there for the taking.
“The first period was kinda hard,” Svechnikov said. “But by the third period I started to feel it in my hands and my skating.”
The second overall pick in 2018 made a very solid impression on his teammates, too. Power forward Julien Gauthier, who scored off a Svechnikov chance, saw some real potential in the Russian’s maiden voyage on Traverse City ice.
“It’s fun to watch him play,” Gauthier said. “He’s already super-mature physically, he’s a great skater, he’s got a great shot and he’s a real complete player.”
Coach Mike Vellucci, who also serves as Carolina’s assistant GM and director of hockey operations - not to mention coach of the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers - sees the potential in Svechnikov, though one game naturally does not make an NHLer.
“He’s a big, powerful forward,” Vellucci said. “You saw it on that one goal where he beat his guy wide, fought him off with one arm and made a great backhand pass (to Kuokkanen). He’s got some ways to go in the defensive zone and in learning the pro game, but offensively he’s gifted.”
With Jeff Skinner traded to Buffalo and Elias Lindholm dealt to Calgary in the Dougie Hamilton swap, Carolina certainly has room in its top six for a player like Svechnikov. Nothing is ever given in the NHL, but Svechnikov already has a reputation of being one of the hardest workers around, both on and off the ice. As per usual, he trained in Russia this summer with his brother Evgeny, the Detroit Red Wings prospect, and some other hockey friends.
The chemistry he showed in that initial foray with Necas is particularly intriguing because the Hurricanes are in desperate need of help down the middle right now. While Necas is young himself, the 19-year-old Czech also has great speed and playmaking vision. With Svechnikov’s knack for scoring goals (he had 40 in 44 games for OHL Barrie last year), the fit seems delightful.
Now, should we expect them to hang with the Sidney Crosby line, or Alex Ovechkin’s trio right away? Of course not. But in somewhat sheltered minutes, there’s no reason to doubt Necas and Svechnikov could get some points in the NHL this season. First things first, however.
“I want to win this tournament and play well,” Svechnikov said. “Then we’ll see what happens.”
Based off the win against St. Louis, the Carolina kids at least have a good shot at the final. Chicago and Columbus both looked OK in their first game (The Jackets beat the Hawks 4-3), so at least early on, the Canes are in the driver’s seat in the tournament’s Gordie Howe division.
And since Svechnikov admitted to being nervous before his first game, he could be even more dangerous as the tournament goes on. It’s a scary thought for opponents, but great news for the Hurricanes.