Can Canes’ Andrei Svechnikov win the Calder Trophy as top rookie? Don’t bet against him

Svechnikov’s first NHL goal memorable

Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, said it was "super cool" to score his first NHL goal in an 8-5 win over the New York Rangers and the first goal for a NHL player born in the 2000's,
Up Next
Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, said it was "super cool" to score his first NHL goal in an 8-5 win over the New York Rangers and the first goal for a NHL player born in the 2000's,

A word of caution: don’t be handing out the Calder Trophy yet, figuratively speaking.

The kid is coming.

The 18-year-old. The rookie from Russia.

Game by game, almost shift by shift, Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes is opening the door a little wider, showing further glimpses of what lies ahead, of what can be for the power forward.

“He’s been really good,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday. “I think his game has gotten better and better as the year’s progressed and he’s learning to play away from the puck, which certainly gives me more confidence to put him out there.

“Obviously with the puck he’s a little more dynamic than he was at the start of the year. I think his confidence has just grown. Maybe a young kid but he’s a man out there.”

That was said before the Canes’ game against the Detroit Red Wings, before Svechnikov again had the look of a man out there.

Early in the second period at PNC Arena, with the Canes trailing 1-0, Svechnikov had the puck on the right wing, approaching the top of the right circle ...

Boom. Just like that the puck was in the net. He ripped a shot that beat goalie Jonathan Bernier to the glove side. Bernier had no chance.

No one else would get the puck past Bernier as the Wings won 4-1. But Svechnikov did, with emphasis, then hopped up into the glass.

That’s 10 for the season, goals in back-to-back games and four in the past four games for the player the Canes made the No. 2 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov (37), of Russia, celebrates and jumps onto the glass following his goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) Gerry Broome AP

Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was the first overall pick of the ‘18 draft and has been a big part of the Buffalo Sabres’ resurgence this season. Forward Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks, taken fifth in the 2017 Draft, leads all NHL rookies in goals (17) and points (36).

Petterson could be frontrunner for the Calder, given to the NHL rookie of the year, given his production. But there is a recurring thought, back to early October and the Canes’ game against the Canucks at PNC Arena.

It’s Svechnikov going hard to the net, intent on banging in a loose puck. It’s Svechnikov finding Pettersson in his way and barreling over the Swede as he scored.

Svechnikov can do that kind of thing and not just to rail-thin, wiry types like Pettersson. He’s 6-2 and 195 pounds and not hesitant to throw his body around.

Andreas Athanasiou of the Red Wings learned that Thursday. No little guy himself, the forward was sent sprawling head-first into the Detroit bench after a hit from Svechnikov.

“You look at him, he’s a man,” Canes forward Jordan Martinook said Thursday. “He’s so strong. And then the skill level. ... I’ve said it a thousand times, he’s a great player and he’s just getting started in this league.

“He’s got a very bright future in front of him. Obviously, I want to see him keep going on the roll he’s on.”

Martinook, 26, has been something of a big-brother, wise-head mentor type for the guy they call “Svech,” offering advice when needed, keeping him loose.

“Whatever I can do to help him, to keep him going a little bit, I’ll do,” Martinook said.

Svechnikov also has his big brother to lean on. Evgeny Svechnikov, 22, is a former first-round pick by the Red Wings. Injured in preseason, the forward underwent knee surgery and has had ample time to critique his younger brother while rehabbing the injury.

It was Evegeny before the season who predicted how Andrei’s first year in the NHL could play out, saying it would be more the steady climb than instant stardom.

“Give him time to get into it a little bit and find his game, have a little patience and he will be more than ready,” Evgeny said in an interview in September.

The Canes have been patient. Andrei Svechnikov is finding his game. Jeff Skinner won the Calder for the Canes in 2011 and Svechnikov could soon be in the conversation for this season.

“He feels like he belongs in this league,” Brind’Amour said. “You can see that. Every time he gets the puck, he’s a dynamic player.”

It has been an interesting season for Svechnikov. Off the ice, he said he forgoes video games -- no Fortnite for him -- and spends free time watching movies or reading. Svechnikov said he’s working toward completing his secondary Russian education, taking a few online classes when he can.

“Everybody does that in Russia, so it’s fine,” he said.

But for now, it’s more about the hockey. On Saturday he’ll be facing the Pittsburgh Penguins and another Russian forward who once was the No. 2 overall pick of the draft: Evgeni Malkin of the Pens.

“At the beginning of the season I didn’t have that confidence,” Svechnikov said. “Right now I have it.”

Next game: Pittsburgh Penguins at Hurricanes

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, PNC Arena

TV: Fox Sports Carolinas

Get Sports Pass for the Carolina Hurricanes

Follow beat writer Chip Alexander and columnist Luke DeCock.
Sign up for The N&O's digital sports-only subscription for only $30 per year.

Read Next

Read Next

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.