Under different circumstances, Rod Brind’Amour probably should have benched Andrei Svechnikov in Saturday’s third period. Svechnikov’s two selfish penalties — he also took one earlier to deny a potential goal — helped open the floodgates as the Carolina Hurricanes saw a two-goal lead disappear in a blink.
But it’s a measure of Svechnikov’s irreplaceable value to the team as a goal-scorer that Brind’Amour felt he had no choice but to keep throwing the young winger out there, waiting for him to conjure the inevitable moment of brilliance.
There’s no time left to wait. It’s time for Svechnikov to grow up — now — with the Hurricanes facing elimination on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Svechnikov’s first two years in the league were full of wide-eyed precocity, smiling charm and dazzling skill, but school is out and it’s time for him to get out of a season-long funk and graduate being the kind of player who can rise above the postseason fray and turn the tide of a series, or even a season.
It’s easy, on paper, to look at his six assists and his team-best analytics and say, what more do you want from him?
Goals. And no more dumb penalties. But especially goals.
He struggled to score through most of the regular season and has continued that into the postseason, where he has two goals, one into an empty net, the other with Alex Nedeljkovic pulled for an extra attacker.
Where it really matters, where Svechnikov has the potential to match Lightning snipers Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos — and is really the only player on the Hurricanes who can — there’s still an empty space.
Svechnikov has yet to score at five-on-five in 10 playoff games. He has yet to score on the power play. He has yet, in the entire postseason, to unleash the exceptional talent and scoring ability that has so often mesmerized both fans and opposing goalies in his three-year NHL career. He has scored his two goals on 17 high-danger chances; Jordan Staal has five goals on as many chances, while Martin Necas’ two goals have come on only eight chances.
Throughout his career and still now, Svechnikov has been given every opportunity to succeed. He has played with multiple centers, and continues to occupy prime real estate on a line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. He remains on the second power-play unit having not scored a power-play goal in six weeks. He had six shifts with Aho and Teravainen after the Lightning made it 6-4, getting nowhere.
Svechnikov’s predictability with the puck is probably the product of a lack of confidence; the perpetual parade to the penalty box simply immaturity. Those are both things Svechnikov can, and almost certainly will, grow out of with time, but 21 isn’t as young as it used to be in today’s NHL.
This season probably hasn’t cost Svechnikov, a restricted free agent, any money; his numbers still aren’t that different from Mat Barzal’s. It’s always been a question of how long more than how much for the restricted free agent. Young stars like Svechnikov get paid these days regardless of their leverage. And for good reason: Their skill and talent is irreplaceable.
There’s a reason he was the first forward picked in his draft year, a reason his lacrosse move was added to NHL 21, enshrining him in gaming history. He can score goals others cannot. There are a lot of players in the NHL who can drive possession. There are fewer who can finish the chances generated.
But Svechnikov continues to take selfish and immature penalties against a team that the Hurricanes cannot expect to stop on the power play. He’s playing without confidence, an unpredictable talent turned utterly predictable, and without any threat.
Svechnikov is far from alone — there’s a long list of Hurricanes making mental errors and/or failing to finish chances — but none of them have Svechnikov’s superlative ability. If the Hurricanes are going to turn this season around, they need Svechnikov to take a step closer to the player he can be, and they need him to do it now.
He’s capable of so much more than this. There’s still time for him to show it before it’s too late.