Recent years have been hard on multiple players in the Detroit Red Wings organization as the team has struggled to find their footing. Perhaps no player has endured more hardship than Evgeny Svechnikov, the Red Wings’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2015.
The talented Russian forward was a renowned goal scorer coming out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and had solid production in his inaugural season in the American Hockey League (AHL). Unfortunately, injury issues and inconsistencies have stunted the development of the former top prospect over the past two years. Thankfully, all is not lost (yet), and a bounce-back season in 2019-20 for Svechnikov could do wonders for speeding up the Red Wings’ rebuild.
Svechnikov’s Cape Breton Career
In 2014-15, Svechnikov jumped onto the scouting world’s radar as an 18-year-old with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL. He tallied 32 goals and 46 assists in 55 games, finishing second among rookies in scoring. The production got him named to the QMJHL’s All-Rookie Team at the end of the season. His heavy 6-foot-3 frame combined with his nose for the net had NHL executives envisioning his potential as a modern-day power forward.
The Red Wings, clearly enamored with Svechnikov’s abilities, ultimately made him the highest-drafted Russian player in franchise history. In hindsight, the decision does not look great as players like Brock Boeser, Travis Konecny, and Anthony Beauviller were selected after Svechnikov in the first round and have already established themselves as reliable NHLers.
The slick winger joined the Red Wings for their training camp ahead of the 2015-16 season. He opened eyes across the organization and played particularly well in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Despite the impressive showing, he was sent back to the Screaming Eagles and delivered 79 points in 50 games to cap off a productive major-junior career.
Growth in Grand Rapids
Svechnikov made the jump to the AHL ahead of the 2016-17 season, and after a slow start (five points in his first 20 games), he scored 46 points in his final 54 contests. Griffins head coach Todd Nelson was blown away by Svechnikov’s quick adjustment to professional hockey. His performance earned him a two-game stint with the Red Wings toward the end of the season and he tallied the shootout winner in his NHL debut.
Alas, with the Red Wings firmly outside of the playoff picture, he was more valuable playing with the Griffins. The fiery forward went back to the AHL and played a key role en route to a Calder Cup Championship with 12 points in 19 games.
Svechnikov’s strong showing increased expectations heading into the 2017-18 season, as the Red Wings hoped he would make the team. Unfortunately, he suffered a neck injury in the preseason which derailed any hope of making the initial roster. The injury also stunted his early production with the Griffins, as he missed the first five games. Likewise, on his return, he was mired in a scoring slump with just five points in his first 20 games.
He eventually rebounded, although with much less ferocity than in the previous season, as he garnered 18 points in his final 37 outings. Luckily, the Red Wings called him up late in the season for a 14-game trial, and he showcased his unique skill set. He deposited two goals and two assists despite receiving a paltry 8:49 of average ice time per game.
Svechnikov was determined to become a full-time NHL player in the 2018-19 season. He focused on improving his skating over the offseason and was prepared to fight for a roster spot on the bottom two lines. Unfortunately, disaster struck in the Red Wings’ final preseason game as Svechnikov tore his ACL and missed the entire season. The injury came at a critical time in his development at the professional level and has made him a relative unknown heading into the 2019-20 season.
Svechnikov’s Next Step
Thankfully, Svechnikov has been able to return to the ice on his own in the past few months. He was attempting to return to the Griffins for the postseason, but the comeback attempt fell short. While this season was a massive disappointment for the 22-year-old, there is a silver lining for the Red Wings.
Since Svechnikov missed the entire season, he will not need to clear waivers to be sent back to the AHL. With that, the team has the flexibility to allow Svechnikov to start the season with the Griffins rather than being forced to keep him in Detroit without a roster spot.
That is not to say that earning a roster spot is out of the question for Svechnikov. Sure, it is unlikely, but there is no way of knowing what general manager Steve Yzerman plans to do over the summer.
Regardless of where Svechnikov starts the season, this is his most important year for development. Should he suffer any other significant injuries or struggle at either level, it may be time to pull the plug and admit that he will never be the player that the organization envisioned.
On the other hand, if he returns from the offseason healthy and showcases the talent that made him an exciting prospect back in 2016-17, the Red Wings could have another key, young contributor on the team.
Svechnikov has dealt with a great deal of adversity through the early portion of his career, but he is the only person capable of silencing his critics. The 2019-20 season is a make-or-break year.