He may have suffered an early season setback courtesy of a broken hand, but Andrei Svechnikov’s combination of size, skill, and attitude means he’s been able to maintain a strong hold atop the draft boards.
Even if it’s taken a while for that grip to get back to 100 percent.
“So my season is going quite well now. Of course, I had surgery and that was a big part of my season,” Svechnikov said. “But now I’m back and I’m trying to stay focused each night on playing my best game.”
It’s no surprise Svechnikov is happy with the start to his season, despite the setback.
He scored 10 goals and totalled 14 points in his first 10 games before he was sidelined with a hand injury that required surgery. It took awhile for him to get full confidence in his hand and he admitted the recovery impacted his performance.
But now he’s back.
“Now I’m at 100 percent. It took a while for sure,” he said. “My grip, when I’m shooting, it hurt a little after surgery. But it took a month and I feel good now. Now it feels good, like nothing.”
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Svechnikov, as he entered the season as a rival of Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin for draft board supremacy.
Post-injury, he’s still finding his name in the upper echelons of many boards — he’s second in Future Considerations’ Winter ranking for the 2018 NHL Draft.
For his coach, Dale Hawerchuk, it’s no surprise that he’s retained that lofty level.
“The difficult part is that he lost almost six weeks of OHL experience,” Hawerchuk said. “When he did get back, he was a little rusty and didn’t have that mileage, but he’s gaining that mileage now and starting to really go on all cylinders.
“If you knew the person, you wouldn’t be worried about it. He’s got that great attitude to persevere.”
Svechnikov himself shrugs off the injury, preferring to focus on the things he can control.
“It’s just a fact of life,” he said. “For sure [the injury in a draft year] is important, but you never know what’s going to happen. After I’ve had that surgery, it’s OK and I just have to keep working.”
Some players from across the Atlantic have a challenge transitioning to the North American game, but Svechnikov came into his rookie OHL campaign with a few advantages.
He came to North America last year, playing with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League, where in 48 games, he tallied 29 goals and 29 assists, along with 68 PIM. He finished the year an impressive plus-29.
The benefit is clear, as he’s successfully made the jump to the OHL, scoring at nearly a goal-per-game pace, with 29 goals in 30 games, and adding 16 assists, despite the injury.
“It was a big experience for me. I was able to play in North America, learn some English, lean how to play the game — play the team game — here,” he said. “Of course, it’s a different game between Europe and America. It’s a little harder here, a little faster. But it was a big experience.”
And he also has the benefit of a brother who has already gone down this path.
Older brother Evgeny played two seasons in the Canadian Hockey League with the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
He’s currently in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins, after being drafted 19th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2015.
“We talk everyday about the game,” Svechnikov said. “He’s helped me a lot. He teaches me how to play the game and we talk about how to play in this situation or that situation.”
The family ties run deep.
Svechnikov’s father remains back in Russia, though he does watch every game — “It’s like 3 a.m., so it’s pretty hard for him” — however, his mother has been with him both in Muskegon and now in Barrie and has helped keep homesickness at bay.
“I live with my mom, every day she’s cooking me Russian food, so I’m great,” he said. “There are not a lot of Russian shops in Barrie, but it’s all the same food. It’s just how you cook it — and mom cooks the Russian food.”
Hawerchuk added that Svechnikov’s been able to pretty much seamlessly adjust to life in Barrie thanks to that experience.
“I don’t think it’s been that difficult for him,” Hawerchuk said. “He played in North America last year, so the adjustment to the rink size was already there. He’s got a great attitude — he loves coming to games, he loves to work, practice, games — just he’s 24-hours hockey.
“I think he adjusted a lot last year. It hasn’t been an issue at all. All the guys love him and he’s got a great attitude. He’s got the right attitude to get to the next level.”
Svechnikov has a solid command of English and said the hardest part of the transition to North America wasn’t language — it was on-ice.
He is matter-of-fact about how you deal with a language barrier.
“I don’t worry about the language — you just stay focused and learn the language,” he said.
He doesn’t worry about the weather in Barrie, either.
Barrie is an area known for harsher, colder weather — just a hop, skip, and a jump from Blue Mountain.
And despite that, though some people who move to Canada are taken aback, by the winter, Svechnikov makes it seem like it’s positively balmy compared to his home town of Barnaul.
“Barnaul is a little bigger than Barrie. I have no problem here, for sure,” he said. “In Barnaul, if you really want to know, it’s just cold.
“Very cold. And that’s it.”
Svechnikov has been anything but cold with his performance this season, though. As the OHL season enters its final stretch, he’s looking to get even hotter.
So what does the NHL Draft’s top forward prospect plan on improving on?
“Everything,” he said.