Evgeny Svechnikov scores shoot-out winner in debut he'll 'never forget'

Author: Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
Date: Apr 5, 2017

NHL debuts don’t get much more memorable.

With his mom watching from the stands Monday at Joe Louis Arena, Evgeny Svechnikov celebrated his first taste of the big show by securing the Detroit Red Wings a 5-4 shoot-out victory over the Ottawa Senators. Svechnikov went in the seventh round, and the only player to score.

“You can’t really end it in a better way, unless maybe it was an overtime goal,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Going in like that and getting a standing ovation has got to feel pretty good.”

Teammates were all smiles as Svechnikov returned to the bench, awaiting only Colin White shooting wide on Petr Mrazek to celebrate.

“That was great to see, it was awesome,” Gustav Nyquist said. “First game coming in and finishing it off like that.”

Shoot-out goals don’t count as individual stats, but that won't diminish Svechnikov’s joy.

“Coach just point at me and he said go,” he said. II was just excited. I wanted to score so bad and it was so loud and I was excited. I just did my thing.”

Svechnikov, 20, got the call to join the Wings Sunday night after Drew Miller came down with flu (Jeff Blashill said Svechnikov will play again Tuesday at Ottawa). Svechnikov arrived after the morning skate, and “there are so many memories, it is just so fun being in this locker room, playing in this rink. It means so much. It is unbelievable.

“Day has been crazy. Too much thinking. But I think this is day I will never forget.”

Svechnikov, the Wings’ first-round pick from 2015, admitted to nerves as he started the game with Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader.

Svechnikov said he thought about his 5-year-old self and how far he’d come from his Russian childhood, and charmingly described himself as having “bubbles in my body” during the anthems.

Coach Jeff Blashill said he’d gotten the stats on Svechnikov’s shoot-out skills from the Grand Rapids Griffins. He chose Svechnikov after six NHLers came up dry.

“I thought I’d give him a try and it was a great move,” Blashill said.

Svechnikov finished with 13:10 in playing time, with one shot.

That Svechnikov would score didn’t surprise recent Griffins call-up Tomas Nosek, who offered a scouting report after the morning skate.

“I think he has got a hell of a shot,” Nosek said. “He is not scared to do some big moves. He has a ton of skill.”

Svechnikov ranks fourth on the Griffins with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists). After five points his first 20 games, he has 26 points the past 30 games.

“I got to see him a few weeks ago, I went over to Grand Rapids during our bye week,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “He did a real good job. Everything I had heard up till that point was that he had really, really grown as a player throughout the year.

“He works extremely hard at his game. In training camp he showed some flashes of skill, but needed probably to learn how to be effective. I think over the course of the season, it seems like he has taken the steps in the right direction to learn how to be efficient and effective — making a lot of plays to create offense and being good defensively.”

Svechnikov, 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, is strong on the puck and has good hands. He played three games in the KHL in 2013-14, then two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before jumping into the AHL playoffs last spring.

Jumping onto the third line in Detroit gives Svechnikov a fast center in Larkin, and a guy who creates space in Abdelkader. Keeping pace at the NHL level is likely to be Svechnikov’s biggest challenge as he makes his debut, but part of why the Wings think so highly of Svechnikov is how he pushes himself.

“I believe inner drive and perseverance are the biggest factors in individual success,” Blashill said. “He has shown the inner drive it takes to be excellent. I had a player tell me that he was walking home towards his apartment one night and he looked up at Evgeny’s apartment and he was running on a treadmill.

“It’s that kind of extraordinary inner drive that ultimately determines who not only can play in the league, but probably most importantly who can be winners in this league.”

Whether Svechnikov will travel to Ottawa for Tuesday's game was to be determined tonight. If the Wings don’t need Svechnikov, he will be returned to the Griffins, who play Tuesday at Manitoba. The Griffins finish the regular season April 15, and have clinched a playoff berth.

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