When Andrei Svechnikov met with reporters at the NHL's scouting combine in Buffalo last week, he used an interpreter to help him with English. Not when he met with teams, though. He spoke for himself in his second language. The reality is, he may have been more comfortable in front of a big group with someone translating, but his English is NHL-ready.
That's the read the Carolina Hurricanes have on the presumptive No. 2 pick in the June 22 NHL draft, in all respects: NHL-ready. It's also how the No. 2 pick feels about it.
“I can never be 100 percent, but I'm pretty sure I will play there,” Svechnikov said Wednesday.
While the Hurricanes would still potentially entertain an offer to move down a few spots, the more they get to know Svechnikov, first at the combine and then in a two-day visit to Raleigh this week, the more mind-blowing an offer would have to be.
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In addition to his hockey skills – he scored 40 goals for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League last year in only 44 games, missing almost two months with a hand injury – and NHL size at 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, the Hurricanes increasingly see the 18-year-old Russian winger as the third leg of a pyramid of young stars, along with Sebastian Aho and 2017 first-round pick Martin Necas, whose NHL arrival is scheduled for this fall.
When Svechnikov and Hurricanes owner Thomas Dundon had dinner Tuesday night at a Raleigh sushi restaurant, Dundon marveled that Svechnikov ordered a grilled chicken salad as an appetizer for the extra protein. It doesn't hurt that Svechnikov looks like he was delivered by the casting director of a CW teen dramedy.
“If we pick second, it's not even close,” Dundon said.
With less than four weeks to go until the draft in Dallas, things are moving quickly between Svechnikov and the Hurricanes. His visit to Raleigh on Tuesday and Wednesday included dinner with Dundon, lunch with coach Rod Brind'Amour, a promotional video-shoot with the team and a physical with team doctors – all a little more than the standard due diligence NHL teams do with prospective picks. They even asked him to confirm the proper spelling of "Hurricanes" in Cyrillic.
It's a bit of a whirlwind for Svechnikov, too.
“I look forward to being drafted and I will know the team (that) selects me,” Svechnikov said. “It's very exciting. It's the next step to prepare for the next thing and I give it my best shot.”
Then again, like most top prospects, he has spent most of his life building toward this moment. He grew up in Barnaul, in central Russia, not far from Kazakhstan and China, where his father is a storekeeper. Both Svechnikov and his older brother Evgeny started playing hockey, and by the time Andrei was 10 he had been identified as a future star.
Barnaul isn't exactly in Russian's hockey heartland, and the search for better competition took him first to Moscow and then Kazan before he followed his older brother to North America. As a 16-year-old, Andrei played in the NAHL in Muskegon, Mich., 45 minutes from where Evgeny – a 2015 first-round pick by the Detroit Red Wings who has played 16 NHL games – was playing in the AHL for Grand Rapids. His mother lived with him in Muskegon and would commute back and forth; when he made the jump to Canada this season, she went with him to Barrie.
“We wanted to indoctrinate Andrei into North American hockey,” said Todd Diamond, Svechnikov's agent. “He took off right away.”
With Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin the consensus No. 1 pick for the Buffalo Sabres, the Hurricanes would still consider moving down to as low as the sixth or seventh pick and still be assured of getting a player they like, but at this point, they'd want an NHL player as good as they think Svechnkikov will be to move down. That would require an NHL team to like Svechnikov even more than they do, and that seems unlikely at this point.
A box of Hurricanes hats – new ones, the ones the draftees will wear when they arrive on stage – sat on the floor of the office where Svechnikov was sitting Wednesday. He picked one up and tried it on. It fit pretty well.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock