For prized Detroit Red Wings prospect Evgeny Svechnikov, a stroke of good fortune would certainly be appreciated. Making next year’s Red Wings team out of training camp could be just that, but there are some hurdles presently standing in his path.
It’s been a tough go for the former first-round pick. Svechnikov’s 2017-18 season was not up to his standards and his production subsequently declined. After finally getting the call-up to Detroit, the Russian winger played sparingly on a struggling team as he adapted to the NHL’s speed. Though it was the right move to ease Svechnikov in, he wanted to do everything he could to solidify his spot on next year’s team, but it’s difficult to make that case playing roughly eight minutes a night.
Further, Svechnikov is being pushed from the spotlight by his younger brother Andrei, who is expected to be a top-three pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, and fellow Red Wings prospect Michael Rasmussen. The former may play significant minutes next season for the team that drafts him and the latter is expected to push for a spot in Detroit this fall – potentially taking away from Svechnikov’s chances.
Related: Rasmussen’s 2018-19 Red Wings Role
So how does Detroit’s top pick from 2015 fit into their 2018-19 plans? Is there even room for Svechnikov to grow in Hockeytown?
Roster Battle Ahead for Svechnikov
As is the case for Rasmussen, there are only a couple open spots for Svechnikov to pursue on the Red Wings roster heading into next season – let alone in their lineup. Trades and injuries happen, plus general manager Ken Holland did promise a younger team moving forward, so there’s a chance Svechnikov could stick in Detroit.
In the meantime, there will be stiff competition for ice time in Detroit. All forwards are expected to return, minus David Booth. There’s also Rasmussen, Dominic Turgeon, and potential free agent additions as well.
Svechnikov would need to play in the top-nine to be effective and grow. Unfortunately, there are only a couple spots available for the taking in that group.
Given these projected lineup placements, it’ll be a tall task for Svechnikov to play in an impact role. Andreas Athanasiou will occupy one of these three open spots if he’s still around next season. Darren Helm picked up his game when he played on a line with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, so he’ll be in the running. Justin Abdelkader, Martin Frk, and, if Rasmussen makes the team, Tyler Bertuzzi will factor in as well. That’s up to six players competing for three spots. Five spots in the lineup total when you factor in Luke Glendening centering the fourth line. And again, Turgeon, free agents, and other prospects could sneak onto the opening night roster.
Un(waiver)ing Red Wings Way
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Detroit has an NHL-ready prospect, a full roster, and said prospect does not require waivers to be sent down to Grand Rapids. Like with Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha before him, it’s entirely possible Svechnikov starts the season with the Griffins simply because he can.
Unfortunately, Svechnikov’s waiver status may work against him when it comes to finalizing Detroit’s roster, especially when you consider the alternatives.
If Michael Rasmussen is cut from the Red Wings, he’ll have to return to juniors, where he has already dominated. Detroit may not want to subject their top prospect to yet another season in the WHL, where he’s outgrown the pace of play.
All other Red Wings players would need to clear waivers before being assigned to Grand Rapids. For someone like Luke Witkowski, that’s not a big gamble. But unfortunately, he’s really the only player—apart from maybe Xavier Ouellet—who Detroit would risk losing on waivers.
However, Holland has promised change. He specifically stated that he wanted the team to get younger before opening night. Roster spots could open up through trades or parting ways with veterans. But until that happens, Svechnikov has a hill to climb in order to earn a spot on next year’s Red Wings team.