While the Detroit Red Wings were relieved to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in a shootout on Tuesday and bring a halt to their 10-game losing streak, their longest skid since 1977, they were both excited and delighted at the performance of rookie right-winger Evgeny Svechnikov.
“He’s played better every game he’s been up here, kind of adjusted to how he needs to play,” Detroit left-winger Justin Abdelkader said of Svechnikov. “He’s a big strong player that goes hard to the net, has some good skill and a good shot.”
In his seventh game since his recall from AHL Grand Rapids, Svechnikov scored his first NHL goal, but just as significantly, displayed that he is beginning to succinctly comprehend the type of game he must play in order to be a successful NHLer.
“I thought that was Svech’s best game since he’s been up,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “I’ve talked lots about the chicken or the egg. Do you get ice time and produce, or do you earn the ice time? I thought he took a step in the right direction in terms of earning more ice time.”
Averaging 7:45 per game coming into Tuesday’s contest, Svechnikov played 8:38 against the Flyers.
“He needs to outplay other players, but I thought he was heavy on the puck and he got rewarded with a goal,” Blashill said.
Amidst all the dilemmas facing this team as they miss the playoffs for the second successive season for the first time since 1981-82 and 1982-83, the one area of optimism for the Wings is their crop of young forwards. Dylan Larkin is evolving steadily into the two-way center who will one day lead this team. Anthony Mantha is their leading goal scorer with 23. If he ever figures out how to use his world-class speed to more of an advantage, Andreas Athanasiou would also be a dangerous presence on a more regular basis. Tyler Bertuzzi does all the little things well, although if he’s going to continue to skate on the top line, he’ll need to show more than two goals in 39 games next to his name on the stats sheet.
The 6-3, 212-pound Svechnikov, Detroit’s 2015 first-round draft pick, is displaying glimmers that he will also grow to add his name to this list, offering an element that the others among this group do not provide.
“Him and I talked about how can he be different than other players on our team?” Blashill explained. “The one thing that I think he can do is be real heavy and be strong on the puck. He’s a big, thick guy, he’s got ability, so be heavy and strong. He doesn’t want to get into a track meet up and down the sheet. He wants to be a guy who can spend time in the O-zone.”
Not only does Svechnikov get this thought process, he is embracing the message being delivered by his bosses.
“Just relax, play your game and be strong on the puck,” is what he says he is hearing from the coaching staff. “They’re just saying play your game, you got ability.”
Naturally, netting his first goal as an NHLer only helps to embolden his inner psyche as Svechnikov battles to prove he’s ready to be a regular at hockey’s highest level.
“I was a little nervous, a little uncomfortable in the first games, but now I know my teammates closer and I feel better on the ice,” Svechnikov said. “I feel more comfortable and confidence. I feel the puck more on my tape and just have free hands, not just holding it. I feel comfortable in the games. It’s just beautiful being here.”
And he’s ready to do whatever it takes to stay here, looking to maximize his opportunities whenever he’s given the chance to display his wares.
“I have to use my chance,” Svechnikov said. “Every shift I got on the ice I have to give everything what I have and earn it. Earning the ice time, earning what I got.
“It’s way different. I got the different ice time now. I have to earn it. Nobody is just going to give it to me for free.”