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Andrei Svechnikov settled into a chair for an interview, smiling and saying, “I will try to do my best.”
The interview over, the Carolina Hurricanes forward sat back and asked, “Did I do OK?”
Svechnikov seemed pleased when told that his English was admirable, that his answers were more than OK.
That, in essence, is Svechnikov’s approach to his first year in the Hurricanes organization. He will try to do his best. When all is said and done, he hopes it will be more than OK.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “I just want to give it my best shot, just do my job.”
A lot of people are counting on him doing it well. Tom Dundon, the Canes owner, is sold on Svechnikov. So is Don Waddell, the Canes’ president and general manager.
“He’s very passionate, very committed,” Waddell said.
The Canes made Svechnikov the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft believing his impact would be immediate, that his addition to the lineup would give the Canes a 6-foot-3, 195-pound power forward who can put the puck in the net.
Svechnikov did that in his first game against NHL competition, scoring a goal and adding an assist Tuesday as the Canes topped Tampa Bay 4-1 in their first preseason game at the Lightning’ Amalie Arena.
“I was very excited,” Svechnikov said. “I scored my first goal. I mean, exhibition game, doesn’t matter, but it was my first goal and I’m pretty excited.”
Svechnikov did not play Wednesday against the Lightning in the first preseason game at PNC Arena, in a 6-1 win. Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour will have him in the lineup Friday against the Washington Capitals, a team that has stopped celebrating its 2018 Stanley Cup title and now will try to win another.
“He’s a big body and he’s got poise already for a young guy, with the puck,” Brind’Amour said.
The marketing of Svechnikov by the Canes began quickly, his likeness seen online and on team posters. The Russian is 18, photogenic and full of potential, and the Canes wanted to tap into all that immediately.
But first things first. Svechnikov says his first objective is simply to earn an NHL roster spot. He didn’t walk into the Hurricanes locker room with an air of entitlement. In fact, he does not yet have a place in the Canes’ room at PNC Arena, consigned to the cramped visitors locker room thus far in training camp with a few other former first-round picks, forwards Martin Necas and Julien Gauthier and defenseman Jake Bean.
Svechnikov and Necas have been roommates in camp but when asked if he would have his own place during the season, Svechnikov said, “We’ll see. First we have to make the team you know.”
Another former first-rounder expects to see him in the NHL this season — older brother Evgeny Svechnikov.
Evgeny, 21, was taken in the first round by the Detroit Red Wings in 2015, 19th overall, but the forward has found it to be a tough go. He played 14 games for the Wings last season, spending much of the year with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL.
But Evgeny believes there is something about his brother that separates him — hockey skills, certainly, but also that so-called “it factor” that can be hard to define but easier to sense in certain athletes.
“His talent is special,” Evgeny Svechnikov said. “He has added to his game, matured his game. His skating ability, his stride, his hands and the way he thinks the game fast, the way he’s aggressive and shoots the pucks and goes to the net … I mean, at times it’s unbelievable and has me saying, ‘Can’t I be like that?’
“But he’s also a better person off the ice. He’s humble. He’s a fun guy to be around.”
The two brothers were around each other a lot this summer in Russia — after the draft in Dallas, after Andrei attended the Canes’ prospect camp in Raleigh. They pushed themselves in strenuous conditioning workouts five days a week, with a lot of power skating and running, and were joined by defenseman Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers and Mikhail Sergachev of Tampa Bay.
“Every day it was like hard work,” Andrei said. “We wake up at 5, going on the ice and working out.”
While there was some hockey talk, Evgeny said little of it was on the expectations his brother will face as the No. 2 pick, playing for a franchise that has not been a part of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009.
“He knows it’s going to be tough and knows he has to be better,” Evgeny said. “He just needs to be good and everything will be fine. Just give him time. Give him the ability to make some mistakes and that’s how he will get better. Because there’s no one perfect.
“He needs to just play, play, play. But expectations? I don’t think he really thinks about it.”
Former Canes forward Sergei Samsonov, now the team’s director of forward development, once was an 18-year-old from Russia making his way into the NHL. Drafted eighth overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997, the Moscow native won the Calder Trophy the next year as the league’s best rookie.
“My first impression of Andrei is he’s pretty serious, a pretty mature kid for an 18-year-old,” Samsonov said. “He obviously wants to get better and he’s trying to soak everything in as quick as possible. There’s a lot going on and a lot has been thrown on his plate but I think he’s a quick learner.”
Samsonov said in the recent Traverse City (Mich.) NHL rookie tournament, Svechnikov was noticeably better in each game, saying, “Hopefully that’s the trend he’s going to take.”
Coming to North America two years ago helped Svechnikov get a feel for the smaller rinks, for having less space to make plays. A year ago, with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, he had 40 goals and 32 assists in 44 games, so that transition went well.
Like his older brother, Svechnikov wears No. 37, plays the wing and shoots left-handed. He was there in 2015 when Evgeny was drafted, and had Evgeny in the stands this year for his big day in Dallas when it all began with the Hurricanes.
A hockey season is a grind, for players of any age. It takes a toll physically but also mentally and emotionally, robbing a player of his focus at times as the season wears on. And especially for an NHL rookie, for whom it’s all new.
Is Andrei Svechnikov ready for that grind?
“Oh yeah, more than ready,” Evgeny said. “Give him time to get into it a little bit and find his game, have a little patience and he will be more than ready.
“He is going to do good. I know that and he knows that.”