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|Fast-learning Evgeny Svechnikov a treat as Grand Rapids Griffins approach Calder Cup Final
31 ìàÿ 2017 ãîäà. Helene St. James , Detroit Free Press
Ask Todd Nelson about Evgeny Svechnikov, and the first words that spring from Nelson are, “my goodness.”
The effervescent and engaging Detroit Red Wings prospect is finishing up his first year of pro hockey, capped by the possibility of a Calder Cup championship. So transformed did Svechnikov look that Nelson, head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, had to double-check he had the right player, and now Svechnikov is among the reasons the Griffins start the Calder Cup Final on Friday against the Syracuse Crunch.
“He’s one of the prospects I’ve had, in all the years I’ve coached in the American Hockey League, that has matured into a player more quickly than other players,” Nelson told the Free Press in an interview earlier this week. “That’s a credit to him. He works at his game. He loves coming to the rink. He always is looking for information from us, and he is applying it.
“That is what happened over the course of the year. At the start of the year, I am thinking, 'oh my goodness, how am I going to get this guy to play the right way.' But he stuck with it, we were patient, and after Christmas, he elevated his game. And even in the playoffs, he is almost at a point a game. He is playing extremely well.”
Svechnikov, 20, has four goals and seven assists in 13 playoff games, including a goal and an assist, respectively, in the last two games of the third-round series. For him, every day, every game, is any opportunity to make himself better.
“I just try to do my thing, try to play my game,” Svechnikov said. “I feel I proved a lot since the beginning of the season, and just try to play the right way and do what Coach told me.”
The Wings drafted Svechnikov at 19th overall in 2015 (on draft night, Svechnikov, a native of Russia, named chocolate milk and cookies among the reasons he liked living in the U.S.). After a highly successful 2015-16 season that saw Svechnikov top 30 goals for a second straight season, and produce 15 points in 13 playoff games for Cape Breton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Svechnikov turned pro, appearing in two playoff games for the Griffins last spring.
As he embarked on his first full year with the Griffins, he went through growing pains common to players who dominate in juniors but struggle as they adapt to playing against veterans. Svechnikov made mistakes. He got beat to the puck. Nothing went in the net.
He just kept going back to work, going back to the rink, determined to improve.
“As a coach you have to develop trust in your players, and it is a two-way street,” Nelson said. “Geno was a young guy coming to us and he was putting a lot of pressure on himself to do the right thing. He was getting frustrated at the start of the year because he was turning pucks over in dangerous areas. We worked on it with video, and credit to Geno, he was the guy coming in every day saying, I want to see this, I want to get better. He is a student of the game.”
Svechnikov said he “felt a lot better second half. The way to play hockey the right way, what Coach tells you, I try to listen.
“I think it is has been a really good season. I learn a lot, first of all, and I think I became more professional as a hockey player. Coach helps a lot — beginning of the season, he spoke with me and he teach me and show me video sessions and stuff. During the season, he helps me a lot.”
After an opening 20-game stretch that saw Svechnikov produce just four points, he started to look more like the skilled, 6-foot-3, 205-pound winger he was in juniors. He put up eight points over the next 10 games, and then came a stretch that saw Svechnikov pump 14 points into a 12-game streak.
That’s when his coach checked his eyes.
“I was like, who is this guy?” Nelson said. “It happened to him quicker than a lot of prospects I have had in the past.
“There’s no entitlement with him. He knew he had to earn my trust. At the start of the season, I’d be talking to Jeff Blashill and he’d say, 'how is Geno doing?' And I’d say, 'he’s not ready yet, he’s got a lot of things he’s got to work on.' We had the same conversation in February and I said, 'you know what, Blash, I feel comfortable saying that he knows what to do in certain situations.' What I told him was, 'I would have no hesitation if you guys needed him. He wouldn't hurt you.' ”
Blashill, head coach of the Wings, did indeed call up Svechnikov, who made his NHL debut April 3 and played again the night in Ottawa. But with the Wings eliminated from the playoffs and the Griffins battling for their division lead, it made sense to return Svechnikov to Grand Rapids so he could help them. Svechnikov put up a goal and three assists in the season finale, finishing with 20 goals and 31 assists in 74 games.
Now he has undergone three rounds of seasoning as the Griffins have dispatched one playoff opponent after another. Among Svechnikov’s backers in Grand Rapids is Daniel Cleary, the former Wings player who now serves with the Griffins in a role that used to be known as player-coach, joining practices (but not games) and mentoring off the ice.
“Svechnikov has come a long way,” Cleary said. “He is up there in scoring and he’s a rookie. And he’s a great kid. This is a kid that just wants it, wants it, wants it. There are parts of his game that are only going to get better as he gets more mature. Svechnikov just wants it so bad.”
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