The Detroit Red Wings see power forward potential in Evgeny Svechnikov, especially as he figures out how to be a little softer on himself.
Like fellow first-round pick Dylan Larkin, Svechnikov is an incredibly driven player, someone who holds himself accountable every shift. As the Wings enter the last month of the season, the Wings want Svechnikov use his audition to show where he belongs in their rebuild.
“We hope he develops into a real strong power forward that can add offensive punch,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Thursday’s morning skate. “He’s a big, thick body who’s hard on the puck, who’s strong on the puck, who has a good skill set.
“When he first came into pros, my take on him was he was real interested in making great plays instead of necessarily what it takes to score a goal. It was a lot about pretty plays. Almost the opposite of Tyler Bertuzzi. Over time he’s learned how to use that skill in a more efficient manner, in that it’s not necessarily how pretty the play is, it’s how effective the play is. As he learns that, he hopefully will become a real good power forward.”
Svechnikov, 21, was called up to offset the loss of veteran center Frans Nielsen, who is out at least through the weekend with an upper-body injury. Svechnikov was pencilled in to start the evening game against Vegas on a line with Andreas Athanasiou at center and Justin Abdelkader on the other wing.
“I played with him at the of last year,” Abdelkader said. “He’s really strong, good skater, strong on the puck. He has a good combination and I’m excited for him to get the opportunity.”
The Wings drafted Svechnikov at 19th overall in 2015. He had a great first year in Grand Rapids last season, reaching 20 goals and 51 points and then helping the Griffins to the Calder Cup championship. The Wings expected him to push for a spot in Detroit last fall, but an injury derailed that plan.
Then came a stretch with the Griffins that saw Svechnikov score only two goals the first two months. It was hard for Svechnikov to deal with such a slump.
“I just wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I was struggling with myself and was trying to find a way to get out from that time. I think it’s all right to go through it. I learned a lot.”
Talking with Griffins coach Todd Nelson helped.
“I think I was worried about struggling and I pressured myself,” Svechnikov said. “Then I let it go, tried to relax myself and don’t push myself and I started doing that and things started going my way.”
There are certain players who are so intent on succeeding it can have a negative effect. Martin Frk, for example, is someone Nelson talked to about slowing down mentally because his intensity at times overwhelmed his effectiveness. It’s finding a way to harness inner drive in a positive way, and it’s something the Wings have discussed with Svechnikov.
“He’s got an extremely great work ethic,” Blashill said. “Dylan, Marty Frk, guys like that that do it away from the ice, do it on the ice. There’s no question about his drive. He wants to be great. He’s extremely hard on himself. And that’s the balance that guys like that have - that self accountability is a great thing, but you have to balance it versus being too hard on yourself and letting things go, and I think that’s probably something - if you’re talking at the beginning of the year, when things weren’t going great, at times he’s probably too hard on himself. Hopefully it’s something he can keep getting better at as he matures.”
Svechnikov appeared relaxed at the morning skate. He explained why he was wearing no. 77 instead of the 37 he wore for two games with the Wings last season (basically the Wings want his NHL number to match up with his AHL number) and spoke of making his NHL season debut with eagerness.
“I feel a lot of emotion,” he said. “Full of energy. I just want to play my game. Be responsible defensively, be really good down low and be strong hanging onto the puck.”
The Wings plan to keep Svechnikov beyond when Nielsen returns, because Svechnikov factors into plans for next season’s roster.
“It’s a way better evaluation if you can look at somebody over the course of 10 games or 12 or eight than one,” Blashill said. “You should never judge a small sample size, you want as big a sample size as you can. For him it allows you not to have that fear that the next mistake, you are going to sent right back down and for us it gives us a bigger sample size in which to make a decision."