May 30th, 2024

The Carolina Hurricanes missed Andrei Svechnikov in last year’s NHL playoffs. He’s back as ‘a force’

By Aaron Beard, The Associated Press on May 3, 2024.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The memory of being unable to help the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL playoffs last year still stings for Andrei Svechnikov. He has opened this post-season like a man savouring every moment of his return.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward who missed last year’s post-season with a knee injury had a strong first-round series against the New York Islanders, a physical presence with size and speed in the Hurricanes’ aggressive-forechecking style. Now, with the Hurricanes preparing to face the New York Rangers in the second round, the player known around the locker room as “Svech” is eager to keep things rolling.

“I just want to go there and enjoy it,” Svechnikov said. “Obviously I had a tough time missing playoffs. I’m sure I would’ve helped a little bit. I’m just going there and enjoying my game and trying to give it my best shot there.”

Svechnikov, the No. 2 draft pick in 2018, developed into a talented contributor during the Hurricanes’ climb from a nine-year post-season drought to making six straight playoff trips. But roughly a month after playing in his first NHL All-Star Game, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in March 2023 and missed Carolina’s push for the Stanley Cup.

Ultimately, he could only help by cranking the “storm warning” siren announcing the Hurricanes’ charge onto the ice in front of a roaring home crowd for the playoff opener. The Hurricanes missed him badly when they ran up against the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final, losing four in a row by a one-goal margin.

That highlighted a longtime desire of Carolina to have more high-end finishers and scoring depth, but the impact was just as much about missing the 24-year-old’s physical, hard-skating style on a roster featuring speed and skill on the top lines. Beyond his scoring was his ability to win puck battles for a team that thrives on sustaining possession in the offensive zone.

“If you look at our team, he’s by far our best power forward,” president and general manager Don Waddell said. “He finishes his checks. He’s not afraid of anybody. He gives us some of that muscle up front that we missed last year.”

Svechnikov recovered from knee surgery in time to skate with the team to open training camp, and he made his season debut in the ninth game in late October. He finished with 19 goals and 33 assists in 59 regular-season games. He also showed some familiar flair with another of his lacrosse-style goals – scooping up the puck from behind the net and wrapping it around the pipes to jam it past the goalie – in a win at Boston in April.

Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, who centres the top line and had Svechnikov on the wing for much of the Islanders series, pointed to value beyond goals and points for a player who is plus-8 through his first 45 career playoff games. Svechnikov’s return is one of the reasons Carolina entered the playoffs as the favourite to win the Stanley Cup, according to Bet MGM Sportsbook,

“He’s a beast out there,” Aho said.

Svechnikov scored his first goal of the post-season in the clinching Game 5 win. The Russian skated up the right side on the power play and attempted a pass to Aho near the crease, with the puck bouncing off the stick of Islanders defenceman Robert Bortuzzo as Bortuzzo reached forward and tried to stay with Aho – an example of how Svechnikov’s play can push opponents into pressured and compromised positions.

“It just felt like every time he was on the ice, he was a force,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said afterward.

Svechnikov also had four assists against the Islanders, with his five points tied for second with Martin Necas and behind only Seth Jarvis (seven). Meanwhile, Svechnikov’s average 18:07 ice time ranked fourth among the forwards behind only Aho (21:50), Jarvis (20:17) and Jake Guentzel (19:57). He also generally avoided taking bad penalties of late.

Svechnikov was eager to get started before the first puck drop, saying it felt like “like three years ago” since his last post-season game (it was only two, a Game 7 home loss to the Rangers in the 2022 second round) and that he had “goosebumps” at the thought of returning.

Still, he also picked up a few observations while watching last year’s run, namely about the value of patience and finding a way to “slow down a little bit” amid everyone frantically skating on adrenalin amid the playoff chaos.

Just don’t expect too much of that.

“I don’t really worry about (scoring),” Svechnikov said. “It’s playoffs. I just go out there and try to have fun and obviously help the team to win the games. That’s all I do.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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