Andrei Svechnikov is 13 games into his rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Russian forward having shown flashes of the skill and power that made him the No. 2 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.
There have been good shifts and bad. There have been some memorable moments and others that had him watching video the next day with Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour. And, yes, he has probably been in the penalty box more than he -- and Brind’Amour -- would have liked.
On Friday, Brind’Amour moved Svechnikov on to Sebastian Aho’s line during the road game against the Arizona Coyotes, replacing Teuvo Teravainen. Svechnikov responded with his third goal of the season, helping the Canes battle back from a 3-0 deficit to earn a point in a 4-3 overtime loss.
Svechnkov said he has been impressed by some opposing players such as forward Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche (“Great player with a great shot.”). He said he has not backed down from those who tried to test him physically such as veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh of Tampa Bay, who rubbed Svechnikov’s face into the glass, only to be knocked down to the ice (“I give him back some.”)
How would Svechnikov rate the start of his first NHL season?
“I feel very good,” he said in an interview Thursday. “The first few games I played emotional, you know, and it was kind of like easy. I’ve tried to play hard and keep working hard and just play my game. I kind of can’t find my game, but I will try.”
What’s been lacking in his game?
“I think I need more experience,” he said. “More moments in games. I think that’s just the process and I will be all right. Hopefully soon.”
Svechnikov was in the lineup on opening night and the 18-year-old has stayed there. Until Friday,he was on a line with center Lucas Wallmark and forward Jordan Martinook as Brind’Amour had been hesitant to tweak things.
Svechnikov’s first two NHl goals were game-winners. The first, against the New York Rangers on Oct. 7, had him leaping into the glass and later earned him a framed display from owner Tom Dundon that included a color print of Svechnikov’s celebration and the puck.
The second goal, against the Vancouver Canucks two days later, had Svechnikov charging to the net for a rebound. In the way and bowled over was the Canucks’ Elias Pettersson, another talented but lean forward who could be a Calder Trophy contender for rookie of the year.
That was in the Canes’ first four games, when Svechnikov also had two assists. He then went eight games without a point, getting off 23 shots, before the goal against the Coyotes.
“You’re going to have bumps and bruises with the young guys,” Brind’Amour said Friday. “It’s a tough game and they’re still in that learning process. I give him credit for digging in and at least getting us a point.”
In recent games against the San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders, Svechnikov had four shifts in each of the third periods as Brind’Amour shortened the bench. But he was on the ice for eight shifts in the third Tuesday in the 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena and had a season-high 16:36 of ice time Friday.
“I always watch my shifts (on video) after every game,” Svechnikov said. “Coach teaches me a lot. I have it in my head, you know, but sometimes I forget some things (in games). But that is normal. I am new here.”
‘These kids are still kids’
Brind’Amour, a rookie head coach, has had five rookie forwards in the lineup and has had to remain patient with them when mistakes are made or playing time is limited, answering questions, tempering any disappointment.
“That’s one of the things when you’ve been there before, it helps,” Brind’Amour said. “I totally know that situation. I came in (the NHL) as an 18-year-old and I remember being sat out as a 19-year-old and almost crying. I didn’t know what was happening.
“It’s how you approach it as a coach, how you relay the message. These kids are still kids and they take things really to heart. You sit them out for a shift and they look at you like ‘What’s going on?’”
Before the season, there was much talk of Svechnikov and center Martin Necas giving the Canes an added dose of youthful energy and skill. Necas, 19, was the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2017, and the two roomed together during the team’s prospects camp this summer, forming a friendship.
Necas played the first seven games with the Canes before the decision to send him to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL for more development at that level. Necas was on the Canes’ roster at the start of last season and made his NHL debut before returning to his native Czech Republic for another year in the Extraliga.
Svechnikov played for the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League last season. The Canes had to keep him on the NHL roster or send him back to his junior team. No AHL option for him. His learning curve has been on the NHL level.
In the final minute of the Boston game, the Canes had pulled goalie Scott Darling for a sixth attacker and Svechnikov was in position for a shot after a cross-ice pass from Warren Foegele. But Bruins forward David Krejci blocked the shot, then appeared to clip Svechnikov with a high stick a few moments later, Svechnikov quickly heading to the bench.
Call it a painful ending. Being a rookie can be a tough go, especially for one from whom much is expected.
“I don’t feel any pressure and just want to play my game and do my job,” Svechnikov said. “Keep staying focused and work to improve everything -- my shot, my skating, my hands, everything, Do my best and help the team win games.”