Canes NHL draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov
Just to be sure, a few weeks ago Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell placed a call to Jason Botterill, his counterpart with the Buffalo Sabres, to make sure Buffalo was taking Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick.
The Hurricanes were fully committed to taking Andrei Svechnikov second overall, but Waddell figured he'd better make sure the Sabres weren't about to throw a curve ball.
“I called him a while back and said, 'Do I need to spend $20 on a nameplate for Dahlin?'” Waddell said. “He said, 'Save your $20.'”
Seconds after the Sabres made that pick Friday, Hurricanes media-relations director Mike Sundheim already had Svechnikov's jersey in his hand. The Hurricanes rushed to the podium, where owner Tom Dundon's daughter Drew made the worst-kept secret in the NHL official, announcing the kind of draft pick that has the potential to change the direction of a franchise.
There are no guarantees, but in the six weeks since moving up in the draft lottery the Hurricanes have grown increasingly excited about the 18-year-old Russian winger's size, poise and skill. At 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds, he has an NHL-ready frame and has spent the past two years in North America acclimatizing himself to the smaller ice and language.
They once entertained thoughts of trading down a few spots, but those thoughts evaporated as they got to know Svechnikov, to the point where he already seemed like part of the franchise by the time the NHL arrived in Dallas this week. Svechnikov greeted Dundon, Waddell and Rod Brind'Amour like old friends as he crossed the stage, an unofficial member of the franchise now officially official.
“It was my dream and it came true,” Svechikov said. “Just the best day.”
Svechnikov's preordained selection may have lacked drama but there was no shortage of it otherwise Friday night. The Hurricanes lost out on Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer, who went to the Colorado Avalanche for slightly less than the Hurricanes were offering, continued to entertain offers for Jeff Skinner without movement and reached an apparent impasse in negotiations with restricted free agent Elias Lindholm.
The Avalanche gave up the 47th pick and took Brooks Orpik's contract to get Grubauer. The Hurricanes offered the 42nd pick and were willing to take on Orpik's contract (not permanently, presumably, given his history with the Hurricanes) but the Capitals preferred to send Grubauer out of the division.
While there were reports that a Skinner deal was close Friday, the Hurricanes remain frustrated with the stagnant trade market.
“Not close,” Waddell said. “It won't happen here, if it ever happens.”
Lindholm's agent, Peter Wallen, said he turned down an offer from the Hurricanes on Friday and said that the two sides have not been able to find common ground in talks that have been going on since August with the previous regime. The Hurricanes would prefer to sign Lindholm to a long-term deal, but in the absence of any movement may trade him instead.
“We're a ways apart,” Waddell said. “Until we can get a deal done, I guess I'd listen to what people have to say. We'll keep working to try to get a deal done.”
In the absence of any trades, the focus of the evening ended up where it was supposed to be, about who is arriving more than who is departing. There may have been more excitement about this pick than even Eric Staal in 2003, in part because of the stroke of lottery luck that led to it, but also because of Svechnikov's goal-scoring ability – the Hurricanes have never had a player quite like the one he projects to become – and his personality.
Svechnikov was asked, at one point, if there were any other players to whom he would compare his game.
His answer: “I think, not really.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock