World Junior Championship preview: Russia

The Red Wings hope Russia’s Evgeny Svechnikov follows in Dylan Larkin’s footsteps at the world juniors before making the jump to the pro ranks next season.

By Bob Duff
Russia | Group B | Roster | THN odds to win: 7:2 The 2015 world juniors served as a coming-out party for one 18-year-old Red Wings first-round draft pick. Could history repeat itself? Last year, Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s first selection in 2014 who’s now enjoying a stellar rookie season in the NHL, stole the show for Team USA with his sensational two-way game. This time around, Russian left winger Evgeny Svechnikov, Detroit’s top pick in 2015, hopes to make a name for himself on the world junior stage. Detroit coach Jeff Blashill certainly sees parallels between the two players.

“He seems to have that inner drive it takes for people to be great,” Blashill said of Svechnikov. “That’s something I look for. Talent is one thing, but you have to have character and talent. He seems to have that type of character, that type of drive that’s going to allow him to continue to get better. That’s what Dylan Larkin has. that’s why he’s continued to progress.” As much as Svechnikov’s 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame grabs your attention, it’s the details in his game that impress the coach most. “He’s real strong on the puck,” Blashill said. “He’s got really good hands, he can make plays in tight with the puck, and his skating will continue to get better because he does have that inner drive.” Svechnikov made the choice last season to leave his native Russia and stake his claim to a North American career and lifestyle, joining the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, where he had 32 goals and 78 points in 55 games, all franchise rookie records. And he picked up the pace this season with 29 points through his first 19 games. “It was a pretty easy decision,” Svechnikov said. “I want to fulfill my dreams. First of all I want to make my dream of playing in the NHL. I came here last year and played in Cape Breton. It was a great decision for me and my family.” Before the Red Wings returned Svechnikov to junior, they suited him up for a pre-season game in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. And then, showing how much they believe in the kid, they got his name on a three-year entry-level contract. His size is going to be an asset for the Wings, who currently are on the small side at forward compared to most NHL teams. “He looks like a big body that has real good physical tools, probably different than what we’ve had a lot of in terms of our draft picks,” Blashill said. “We’ve had some smaller guys with skill, but he’s a big body that has real good physical tools.” Svechnikov’s first move after inking his deal was to send his signing bonus back to his folks, Elena and Igor, in their hometown of Kazan. “They need it more than me,” he said. There’s that character to which Blashill alluded. The next move for Svechnikov, who suited up for Russia in the QMJHL leg of the Subway Super Series, is to make his mark at the world juniors. It won’t be easy – Russian coach Valeri Bragin generally doesn’t favor 18-year-olds – but Svechnikov is someone not easily deterred by challenges. “Everybody has a chance in their life,” he said, “and I have a chance, a big chance for me…I just keep going and moving forward myself, and we’ll see what I can do.”

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