Coming from a man who knows a thing or two about the subject matter, these few simple words spoke volumes:
“He’s got pro written all over him,” said Barrie Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk, speaking about his star pupil, Andrei Svechnikov.
Hawerchuk, of course, knows of what he speaks. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was a Mastercard Memorial Cup winner in the very same year he was taken No. 1 overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft.
Svechnikov is likely to be the first Canadian Hockey League player selected on June 22 in Dallas, which makes the relationship between the Russian right winger and the former star-player-turned-coach so interesting.
“Dale’s been good for me,” said Svechnikov, in clipped English. The 17-year-old from Kazan – he turns 18 on March 26 – seems comfortable listening in to English conversation but is careful in the way he selects words and phrases when he speaks.
He’s been anything but careful on the ice. He took the OHL by storm back in the fall with a certain flair and elan to his game that had some suggesting he could perhaps be taken No. 1 overall, though the consensus opinion is that Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin will earn that honour.
A hand injury kept him out until just before the World Junior and Svechnikov did well to even make the Russian team, given that country’s traditional aversion to carrying 17-year-olds, especially ones that barely played in the lead-up to the annual event.
As the hockey world knows, it wasn’t Russia’s best showing in Buffalo; the odds were always stacked against Svechnikov bolstering his status during that tournament and his team’s quarter-final exit at the hands of the U.S. snuffed out any chance of the young forward, or his team, creating any sort of sustained momentum as the calendar turned to 2018.
“He wasn’t really given much of a chance,” observed Hawerchuk, though it should be noted that Svechnikov did post four assists and created a few chances off the rush.
Back in Barrie, Svechnikov was eager to get some of the mojo back he created in October. He laughed when it was pointed out to him that some of the deep freeze that has encased most OHL markets must remind him of the infamously cold winters of his homeland.
“About the same,” he grimaced, just as one of his teammates opened an exit door in the bowels of the Barrie Molson Centre, leading to an Artic blast of air blowing over him as he chatted to a reporter.
Svechnikov, of course, has given Colts fans nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings this year.
He, as the expression goes, possesses a talent that makes him worth the price of admission alone. It has also led to a constant flow of NHL scouts to pass through the Central Ontario community.
Clearly comfortable off the rush, creating open space in traffic, or a being a constant threat on the powerplay, Svechnikov’s repertoire is of the quality that allows him to score (or help others) in bunches.
“He’s been that type of player for two years now,” said Redline Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief. “A dynamic scorer in an era when offence in the NHL is at a premium…teams (desperately) need what he (brings).”
Hawerchuk voices similar sentiment and points out that Svechnikov is not a liability defensively and has the respect and admiration of his teammates.
“The guys see how hard he works, how he backchecks and his teammates respect that,” said Hawerchuk.
So, where exactly will Svechnikov go in June? He’s a dead certain top-half first-rounder and will almost certainly be taken in the first five picks. Could he go even higher and do the unthinkable and unseat Dahlin at No. 1? It’s highly unlikely but Woodlief for one doesn’t see it as impossible and has even had Svechnikov ahead of the Swedish defenceman in his own rankings.
“The fact is that NHL teams value offence skill over defence at the draft,” said Woodlief, pointing out some similarities this year in the way that former Oshawa Generals/London Knights centre John Tavares nosed ahead of Swede Victor Hedman, in part because of the same dynamic when it came time for the New York Islanders to make the first selection.
Though much farther back, another comparison could be how then-London Knights forward Rick Nash went No. 1 overall, ahead of a chase pack that included Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman Jay Bouwmeester. (Both players captained their respective teams that year in Regina at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.)
For now, Svechnikov says his priority is to help the Colts make a big playoff push and to participate in the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. He says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in high-stakes situations like this annual event but also important Colts games down the stretch.
“All of this stuff really helps me and makes me a better player,” he said.
Written for the CHL by Peter Robinson