Evgeny Svechnikov was one of the Detroit Red Wings’ brightest prospects following his draft selection in 2015. Chosen 19th overall, it looked as if the Red Wings were going to revive the Russian brilliance of the 90’s. Svechnikov was signed to a three-year entry deal with Detroit and took the ice for the Grand Rapids Griffins for the 2016-17 season.
Russian Rookie: Svechnikov Makes a Grand Entrance
Evgeny dazzled very early on during the regular season. Amassing 51 points in 74 games, and 12 points in the 19 post-season games, the rookie Russian immediately gained a loyal following. Under then-head coach, Todd Nelson, Svechnikov earned his ice time and made every shift count. Trusted in every situation, he developed at an incredible rate while with the AHL.
As he grew to be a trusted skater and efficient scorer, Svechnikov gained confidence. He skated as if he knew he was going to score — and he did. With a sniper shot from essentially anywhere on the ice, Evgeny became a scoring machine. In time, it earned him the local nickname of “Geno the Machino.” The Russian had arrived.
Sophomore Slump is Real
Svechnikov hit a wall at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, his second as a pro. Beginning the year injured along with teammate, Tyler Bertuzzi, Svechnikov’s pride took a massive hit. He struggled to regain his confidence and seemed to have lost the fire that surrounded him the previous season. Injury takes a toll not only physically, but mentally on an athlete. Evgeny, having a typically very healthy track record, didn’t handle it well.
I recall having a casual conversation with Griffins head strength and conditioning coordinator, Marcus Kinney. As we stood in the weight room, surrounded by the healthy and unhealthy scratches, he was describing how hard it is for the athletes to work their way back up to the level they were before. Especially Svechnikov.
Evgeny holds himself to an extremely high, almost impossible, competitive standard. To back-pedal and have to work from the ground up is a major blow to the confidence. He was accustomed to being elite, healthy and successful. Upon returning to the ice, the breach of mental fortitude was visible.
The sound of a puck hitting a cross-bar is either one of two things; an excited “we were so close!” or a disappointed, “he was so close!” Svechnikov grew accustomed to the latter. His sophomore season return brought 23 points in 57 games. Five of those goals were over the course of 39 games. Though a good total number for some, it wasn’t enough for Svechnikov to get pulled up to Red Wings for good.
Redemption on the Rise for Evgeny
This year’s Red Wings training camp brought renewed hope to Svechnikov. As soon as he took the ice for the first practice, his competitive and driven attitude was unmistakable. Each drill brought a welcomed challenged and he pushed harder than I have ever seen him push before. The format of the camp had been changed as of last season, and is now more intense and more demanding, he told media following a camp scrimmage. Svechnikov was placed in a group of mostly roster Red Wings and forced to adapt to their level of skill in every drill. He did so with ferocity and skill.
Preseason has boosted his confidence and his teammates trust in his ability. His shots have been more precise and has even resulted in two game-winning goals. One of Svechnikov’s weaknesses was his defensive game. As a very skilled offensive player, his defensive ability went to the back-burner over the years and never received the attention it needed. Not so anymore. His vision when on the defense has improved and he’s able to anticipate the puck’s movement with much more efficiency.
Svechnikov is a uniquely aggressive skater. He stoops low, powered by heavy upper body torque and strong legs. This distinct style separates him from the pack, literally and metaphorically. He’s gained quite a bit of muscle in the last two seasons, his passing is crisper and his playmaking is evolved. Evgeny is also versatile, being a right winger and left winger. The potential for him to also add centerman to his job description would benefit the Red Wings.
A Lesson Learned
Svechnikov, only 21, has learned his lesson. He was unhappy with his production last season and is approaching this coming season with a fresh pair of eyes. He told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press in a video interview, that he couldn’t point to just one lesson. In his eyes, he has matured on the ice and is putting in intense training hours off of it.
Training alongside his younger brother Andrei, the number two overall draft pick this year, Evgeny has been pushing his own boundaries in terms of conditioning. Speaking with him in Traverse City at the VIP Golf Classic Dinner, it was clear to me that the partnership between Evgeny and his brother has been a major contributing factor to his off-season growth.
Evgeny is set to start the season with Grand Rapids, but according to coach Jeff Blashill, he hasn’t shown any “big negatives” to his game and is improving. Svechnikov knows the competition is stiff but he has a new passion and understanding. He has already shown signs of controlling the game, directing his energy and matching the conditioning efforts of the pros.
From what I’ve seen in the off-season from Evgeny will be kicking the door in early as the 2018-19 season gets underway. He will be with the Griffins, but fans shouldn’t get used to seeing him there – he’s on his way to the NHL.
I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.