GLENDALE – Andrei Svechnikov walked into the Carolina Hurricanes dressing room, as he often does, with a smile on his face.
Svechnikov: “Hello, guys.”
Reporter: “How are you?”
Svechnikov: “Unbelievable, you?”
Unbelievable indeed. Andrei Svechnikov won’t reach his 20th birthday for another month, which means he could still be playing for the Barrie Colts right now and representing Russia in the World Junior Championship. But he’s already 136 games into his NHL career and making a huge impact on the fortunes of the Carolina Hurricanes. Svechnikov scored two goals in the Hurricanes’ 5-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes Thursday night, the one that got them back into the game after the Coyotes had taken a 2-0 lead and the one that put them ahead in the game for good. Important goals, both of them. But Svechnikov is used to doing that. Of his 22 goals this season, 12 of them have given the Hurricanes the lead at some point in the game and seven have put them ahead for good. That’s the highest number on the team.
If the Carolina Hurricanes were in the Pacific Division, they’d be in first place. But they’re in the Metro, where they happen to be the fifth-best team and the one hanging on by its fingernails to the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. If the Hurricanes are going to replicate their run to the playoffs, where they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion and made it to the conference final, it’s going to be with players such as Svechnikov and linemates Sebastien Aho and Teuvo Teravainen leading the way.
Check that, new linemates. Hurricanes’ coach Rod Brind’Amour has been loath to play the three together because he’s done so before and hasn’t been crazy about the results. But at the urging of assistant coach Jeff Daniels, Brind’Amour put his three top scorers together and got immediate results. “We’ve had them together and it wasn’t great,” Brind’Amour said. “The other about putting all your ducks in one corner is it sometimes it doesn’t work. But if we can get other guys to contribute, that becomes a real dynamic line.”
It certainly does make things a little top-heavy for the Hurricanes. Those three players account for more than one-third of all the Hurricanes goals this season, with Aho leading the way with 29. Teravainen leads all Hurricanes with 41 assists, which puts him among the league leaders, tied with Patrick Kane for eighth in the NHL. “Those two Finnish guys, I feel, are the best in the world at finishing,” Svechnikov said. Yeah, he really said that. “It’s really enjoyable to play with those guys. It’s super exciting to play with those guys.”
Thanks to one of the most feeble offer sheets ever, Aho is under contract for four more years after this one, as is Teravainen. In the second year of his entry-level deal, Svechnikov stands to make $3.6 million this season if he meets his performance bonuses, something he’s on pace to do easily. That will put the Hurricanes over the salary cap, but the excess can be carried over to next season. It’s a burden the Hurricanes will be more than happy to bear if Svechnikov can keep putting up points and the Hurricanes keep winning games. With 50 points, Svechnikov is well ahead of the impressive production he had as a rookie and is on pace to post a 76-point season.
“The maturity level of him has been phenomenal and the growth of his game is off the charts,” Brind’Amour said of Svechnikov. “Where he was (when he came into the league) and where he is at now…the learning curve coming into this league is tough and every day it gets better and better. I don’t know where it ends, but I think there’s still another level for him.”
As the Hurricanes chase a playoff spot and try to meet the expectations they created last year, it’s pretty clear this team is changing its complexion. No longer is its only strength its depth on defense. And while the return of Justin Williams has been a wonderful feel-good story, it seems the Hurricanes are no longer his team. Whatever the Hurricanes accomplish will be driven by their young stars, led by the likes of Svechnikov.
“That’s what we have to do, score right now and play good ‘D’ and help the team win these games,” he said.
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