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Sophomore Swagger: Svechnikov making transition to star scorer with Hurricanes

His 20-goal rookie campaign was overshadowed, but Svechnikov is making his mark as Carolina's leading scorer this season. He's not the only second-year skater turning heads, either.

The only way you could have missed the clip is if you tried. Little more than two weeks ago, Andrei Svechnikov found himself behind the Calgary Flames net with not a single defender applying pressure. So, the Carolina Hurricanes youngster went ahead and pulled off a lacrosse-style scoop-and-score that landed him on every highlight reel across the continent.

But to boil Svechnikov’s performance down to one goal, no matter how dazzling that goal may have been, would be a disservice to the way the 19-year-old has played this season. After an impressive though somewhat overshadowed rookie campaign – he finished seventh in Calder voting, receiving only one second-place vote – Svechnikov is truly his marking his arrival this campaign with what has thus far been one of the most standout performances of any sophomore skater.

It could be argued, of course, that Svechnikov’s really coming out party happened last post-season. After a steady second half in Carolina in which he remained a consistent producer, Svechnikov stepped into the spotlight in the playoffs, potting two goals and three points in his first two games. A tete-a-tete with Alex Ovechkin in the opening round landed Svechnikov on the shelf for several games with a concussion, but upon his return, he went out and buried another goal and two points in the final six games of the Hurricanes’ run to the Eastern Conference final.

What sets his performance through the first 19 games of this season, however, is that he hasn’t just been one of the Hurricanes’ scorers this season, he has been the Hurricanes scorer. Thursday night in Buffalo, Svechnikov slotted home his eighth goal of the campaign and added a pair of assists to push his point total to 21 and up his pace to 35 goals and 91 points across the entire campaign. To contextualize those numbers, Svechnikov scored 20 goals and 37 points as a freshman, and he’s nearly halfway to that goal total and more than halfway past that point total with another 63 games left on the slate.

Better yet, Svechnikov’s performance has put him atop the teams scoring list, dead-even with blueliner Dougie Hamilton, and only Hamilton and Sebastian Aho have turned the red light on more than Svechnikov. His growth as a player and familiarity with the league is no doubt one reason for Svechnikov’s success. But additional opportunity hasn’t hurt, either. With off-season changes to the roster, Svechnikov has landed himself a spot on the top power play unit and the coaching staff’s trust has paid dividends. Not only does Carolina have a power play on the cusp of the league’s top five, but Svechnikov’s nine points with the man advantage are the second-most of any Hurricanes skater. He’s been an integral part of Carolina’s ability to convert.

Svechnikov isn’t the only sophomore who has bucked the so-called sophomore slump, however. Here are four others turning heads in their second NHL seasons:

Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Not the least bit shocking to find Pettersson, the defending Calder Trophy winner, atop the list. He has been exceptional for the Canucks, his eight goals tied for the team lead and 24 points five clear of the next-highest scorer in Vancouver. It’s not just Pettersson’s scoring that has been impressive, however. It’s the creativity the 21-year-old continues to show, the way in which he can spin even league-best defenders into the ground and find spaces in even the tightest-checking groups.

His current scoring pace is tops among all sophomore skaters, and if he maintains this pace, Pettersson will finish with 33 goals and 99 points. That said, if he at least reaches the 80-point plateau, he’ll be the first Canuck to do since Henrik Sedin in 2011-12 – and the first non-Sedin to hit the mark since Markus Naslund in 2003-04.

Ramus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres
In terms of ice time, Dahlin has actually taken a slight step backwards. Under coach Ralph Krueger, the 19-year-old rearguard is skating 19:26 per outing, down from the 20:09 average posted through 82 games in 2018-19. As far as production goes, however, Dahlin is on his way towards a notable leap forward. After wowing with nine goals and 44 points last season, his one goal and 12 points through 18 games this season puts him on a five-goal, 55-point pace. He’s showing signs that he could be on his way to becoming one of the league’s premier power play quarterbacks, as well. His seven assists with the man advantage are tied for the fifth-most among blueliners, and among defensemen with at least 30 minutes of power play ice time, there are only 16 rearguards who have been more prolific.

Oskar Lindblom, Philadelphia Flyers
Was Lindblom, 23, even on the radar as a player who had potential to have a sophomore slump? He garnered absolutely no Calder attention at season’s end despite finishing with 17 goals and 33 points. So, maybe a more apt designation for Lindblom is as a player who is on his way to a sophomore breakout.

Regardless, he’s turning heads in Philadelphia. Under coach Alain Vigneault, Lindblom has become a favorite, skating upwards of 17 minutes per game, and he’s made the most of his minutes with eight goals and 14 points through 18 games. The only catch – and it’s one worth watching – is that he’s shooting the lights out with a near 20-percent shooting percentage. That said, even if his shooting success normalizes, he’s well on his way to a career year. He’s been a real bright spot for the Flyers.

Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars
It’d be easy to give a Stars-related nod to Miro Heiskanen, who has taken all of one season and change to transform into one of the steadiest two-way defenders in the NHL. But how about some love for Hintz, who, without half the fanfare, has nine goals and 11 points in 16 games? The totals are impressive in their own right, but they’re in mind-blowing territory if you consider that he’s matched his goal output from last season and is halfway to matching his rookie point total in 42 fewer games.

Sure, like Lindblom, Hintz is basically an on-ice King Midas. His 27.3 shooting percentage is going to dip. But the 22-year-old is making use of the extra ice time he’s been given. While the big guns have slumped, the Stars sophomore most certainly has not.

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