Evgeny Svechnikov Lighting the Lamp
Date: Apr 20, 2017
Evgeny Svechnikov is a special type of player within the Detroit Red Wings system. Standing 6’3 and weighing 205 pounds, the 20-year old is a top prospect currently playing with the Red Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. Red Wings fans caught a glimpse of the future power forward during the final week of the regular season where he so smoothly demonstrated his skills by scoring a shoot out winner against the Ottawa Senators in his NHL debut to send the Joe Louis arena in hysteria during one of the last remaining games in the legendary rink.
Now, having gained some NHL experience and with the AHL Calder Cup playoffs underway, Svechnikov will be poised to crack the Wings roster next year. He enjoyed a tremendous first year as a professional, one which isn’t over just yet.
Svechnikov describes his brand of hockey as a player who “loves making plays and creating opportunities for my teammates and myself. I always try to bring some spark to every shift. I love being in control of the puck, I see the ice well and know how to serve nice passes or make some time and space to create chances. I possess a heavy shot and most importantly to bring everything together, I have strong skating ability.”
Born in Sakhalin in the Russian far east, Svechnikov and his family would eventually move to the city of Barnaul. “That’s when my dad took me skating. I was around 5 years old at the time. The reason I got into skating and hockey was because my Godfather and my brother’s Godfather were both into hockey and they inspired us to play hockey too. We told our father and he started to take us out to skate and play. I am thankful for my parents who always took me to play hockey.”
As a youth he admired legendary Russian Pavel Bure and would dawn Bure’s number 10 on his own jersey. As he grew older he began looking up to another famous Russian, Evgeny Malkin. “I’ve always admired the way he plays the game, especially given the fact we are both about the same size. I try to model my game after his.”
Growing up and playing in Russia provided Svechnikov with many amazing experiences and memories. “The most incredible memories were from when I was playing for Ak Barz Kazan in the Russian junior league. I was 13-14 years old at the time and we played in the Championship of Russia tournament. Up to that point, that was the biggest tournament I ever played in, and we ended up winning it. The next season we won again so we were repeat Champions of Russia.
Another amazing memory was when I played for team Russia at the 2016 World Juniors in Finland. I remember the intense emotions and electric atmosphere in the gold medal game against Finland. That game went to overtime. Unfortunately we lost and left the tournament with the silver medal. It is still an amazing accomplishment and something you appreciate more later on.”
In 2013, while still playing Junior in Russia, Svechnikov was drafted in the second round, 63rd overall, in the 2013 CHL Import Draft by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL. During his rookie season, he tallied 32 goals and 46 assists in 56 games, finishing third in team scoring. He would be named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team and earned an invitation to play in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
Coming to Canada to play in the QMJHL though was not something that was planned. “Cape Breton found me because they were scouting my team AK Barz, and specifically my line mate Maxim Lazarev. He and I played together and were a dynamic duo. Cape Breton drafted Max in the first round and drafted me in the second round. However, at the time of the draft, I had already signed to stay with Ak Barz. I even told teams that I would be staying in Russia, but regardless Cape Breton drafted me. That is why it came as a surprise. Max went to the CHL right away, and I stayed behind and played the 2013-14 season with Ak Barz. The following year, I came to North America to join the Screaming Eagles. I enjoyed my time there and am glad how things played out. My favorite memory from those two seasons was playing in the playoffs. Overall, I really liked the city, team and the people.”
Svechinkov’s play impressed NHL scouts so much that he was projected to be drafted in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The Detroit Red Wings selected him with the 19th overall pick. “It was a dream come true. To hear your name when you are called, hugging my parents and coming up and standing on the stage. It is a feeling like no other. You dream about it your whole life. It all happened so fast, but at that moment time stood still.”
This season has been Svechnikov’s first year at the professional level. In 72 regular season games with Grand Rapids, he recorded 19 goals and 28 assists. “It is a different game and different lifestyle as a professional. There was an adaptation period. Players act very mature. After the first couple months, I found my rhythm and things fell into place. I started to score more goals and understand the system. The coaches helped me a lot and for my hard work they started to trust me more and gave me more opportunities.”
On April 3, 2017 Svechnikov’s NHL dream became a reality when he was called up by the Red Wings and made his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators. “We were in Winnipeg, Manitoba with Grand Rapids the day before, it was lunch time and I was with team. Our coach Todd Nelson called me and told me that I was being called up. He congratulated me and said ‘make good on your chance in the NHL.’ I was ecstatic upon hearing the news, a lifelong dream had come true. There are no words to describe the feeling. Early the next morning, I flew to Detroit. I only slept 5 hours the night before. The day of my call up, for the whole day I was smiling. My parents were so happy for me too. After arriving in Detroit, I had lunch and did my game day routine that I always do. When I stepped onto the ice it was just out of this world. Everyone on the team congratulated me and took me in.”
With the Red Wings and Senators tied after regulation and overtime, Svechnikov sealed the deal for the Wings in the shoot out, scoring a magnificent goal to cap off his NHL debut. “I was on the bench and the coach said, ‘Go out there!’ I was smiling ear to ear. I was actually very confident in myself and knew I would score. I knew the move I was going to do. When I have this intrinsic feeling, I score. I heard the whistle and I was off. Everyone was shouting and cheering in the stands. I showed the goalie a fake and put it five hole on my backhand. I saw the puck as it went into the net and my emotions just took over. The arena erupted in joy and I was feeling on top of the world.”
To have such an incredible moment in his NHL debut was amplified by the fact it was during the final few days of operation for the legendary and iconic Joe Louis Arena. Svechnikov felt honored to play at the Joe. “I felt the energy, the excitement and the history. I am so happy I got to play on that legendary ice. The people love that arena, the fans are truly amazing. I don’t think there is many fan bases like the one in Detroit. They are so passionate and love their team. When I scored, I felt the excitement coming from the fans, it was such a special moment, one I will never forget.”
He would play another game with the Red Wings before being reassigned back to Grand Rapids, but will build on the initial lessons he learned from his first NHL experience. “In those two games along, I feel like I learned how to react even faster and play at the NHL pace. In principle, because of my time in the AHL I felt prepared. The game style is quite similar, it is just at a higher speed in the NHL. I spent time watching and studying guys like Niklas Kronwall and Dylan Larkin. It was an unforgettable experience.”
Right now, Svechnikov is focused on making a long playoff with Grand Rapids with the goal of winning the Calder Cup. After that he will focus on his off season training. “I will train in Detroit and work on my game every day.”
Outside of hockey, Svechnikov stays active. He plays other sports such as basketball, soccer, and badminton and enjoys going to movies, watching TV, and spending quality time with friends.
He is also thankful for the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA) which represents AHL and ECHL players for keeping him and his teammates informed on various off-ice issues and benefits afforded to players at the professional level. “I am very thankful for having the PHPA, they are very important for the league. It is nice as a Russian player to be walked through everything and get all the support I need. I’ve seen first hand how the PHPA does a great job of helping all players and really going the extra mile to take care of us.”
In terms of professional life style, Svechnikov is just as focused off the ice. “I am very responsible. I’ve adjusted to living on my own, cooking and taking care of myself. The biggest development I feel since the start of the season to now is my growth as a player. I feel like a true professional in my approach to the game. In this time, I feel like I have learned so much. I have gotten much more well rounded. I am very excited for the playoffs and can’t wait to make a run for the Calder Cup.”