The Svech: Andrei Svechnikov Making a Name for Himself, One Lacrosse Shot at a Time

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GARNER, N.C. — Inside a cramped referees locker room with low ceilings and wood-paneled walls—a bucket of hot rocks away from a small sauna, basically—Andrei Svechnikov is lacing up his skates and listening to instructions. Alongside fellow Hurricanes winger Martin Necas, the 19-year-old will soon make a guest coaching appearance at a practice for some under-10 boys and under-12 girls teams. It won’t be a heavy lift, Emile Hartman, the Hurricanes’ youth and amateur hockey coordinator explains to them. Just hop into drills, pass pucks, bump fists ...

“And,” says Hartman, nodding toward Svechnikov, “I’m sure all the kids will want you to pull out the move.”

Well, duh. Ever since Svechnikov whipped that mind-melting goal over Flames goalie David Rittch’s right shoulder in late October—the only successful lacrosse-style attempt in NHL history, until he did so again less than two months later—greater Raleigh hasn’t stopped gushing over his signature, eponymous skill. Especially its youngest fans. “He’s created a following,” Hurricanes forward Justin Williams, who coaches his son Jaxon’s team, recently lamented. “My practices have gotten like five minutes longer because, after picking up pucks, these kids are always trying The Svech behind the net and I’m trying to get them off the ice.”

Sure enough, as he emerges from the locker room and hops over the boards on this mid-January evening, Svechnikov is tasked with helping oversee a simple skating and shooting drill involving some cones and tires. Instead he is quickly encircled by awestruck skaters, the station grinds to a halt, and nothing much productive gets done for the next half-hour. The goalie, a girl rocking a hot pink mask, abandons the crease to follow Svechnikov behind the net, poking his midsection and badgering him about trying the move on her.

At last Svechnikov relents, scooping a puck onto the blade of his stick, swooping it through the air, and shoveling it just underneath the crossbar. Everyone cheers. Nearby, one of the team’s coaches shrugs, his expression clear: Who can blame ‘em for wanting some magic?

It’s easy to see why the masses are so enthralled. Happily nabbed by Carolina as the No. 2 pick behind Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin in 2018, Svechnikov has already surpassed his rookie point (42 to 37) and assist (24 to 17) totals while maintaining a 30-goal pace as a sophomore and averaging two extra minutes, more of a top-six horse than a one-trick pony. Skilled and tenacious yet loose and creative, the Russian teen is also the perfect on-ice avatar for these Bunch of Jerks-era Canes (27-17-6, 56 points), a shot-generating monster with a player-produced postgame show looking to build off last season’s run to the conference finals.

And, obviously, he has super sick moves.

“I go to a lot of elementary schools for hockey clinics,” Hartman says, watching practice from the bench beneath a banner featuring a picture of Svechnikov, part of a series of Hurricanes-themed decor here at Garner Ice House. “He’s the main topic. All the kids want to do The Svech now.”

Tonight is no exception. "Can you do the lacrosse goal?” one girl asks Necas on the ice. “No, that’s Svech,” the 21-year-old replies. “Well,” she shoots back, “why are you pro then?” Svechnikov, meanwhile, is clearly in his element, 6’2” and 195 pounds but a kid at heart. He plays keepaway from a mob of skaters, practices shootouts with the goalie with the pink mask, and grins the entire time. As practice winds down, a whistle blows.

“Raise your hand if you had fun?” a coach asks.

Before anyone else can budge, Svechnikov’s stick shoots into the air. His voice fills the rink.

“WOOOOOOOOO!”

***

As his teammates will testify, Svechnikov is prone to these sort of excitable outbursts. “He’s always yelling at people,” winger Jordan Martinook says. Four years ago, Svechnikov moved to the U.S. without any command of the English language. Now he is nearly fluent and hardly shy about speaking up. On the Carolina team bus, losers in the card game Chase the Ace are bombarded with catcalls: GOOD NIGHT, BROTHER! SEE YOU NEXT GAME! The Hurricanes marketing staff, meanwhile, is planning to put another one of his catchphrases, a pregame callout for defenseman Dougie Hamilton—LET’S GO DOOOOOGIE! —on T-shirts.

“Sometimes I know I’m saying stupid things, but it’s sometimes funny, you know?” Svechnikov says. “I try to be funny, always have fun.”

Just don’t confuse a silly personality with an unserious player. Aside from perhaps coach Rod Brind’Amour, whose daily exercise regimen begins with a warmup of weighted-vest chin-ups, no one in Carolina works harder than Svechnikov. “We have this shooting area and there would be days [the team] would be done at noon,” GM Don Waddell says, “and I’d go in there at 3, and he’s shooting pucks.” He has also been known to head out for a quick twirl after Canes games as well, cruising around PNC Arena in shorts and a T-shirt while testing out a new skate blade.

“As I’m leaving, he’s still at the rink,” Brind’Amour says. “I’m like, ‘Go home!’”

“Always working on stuff,” Hamilton says, “and that’s why it’s no surprise that he has one of the best shots in the league.

“Yeah,” Martinook says flatly, “he’s a freak.”

This ceaseless ethic was instilled in Svechnikov at an early age thanks to his brother, Evgeny, now a 23-year-old winger with Detroit’s organization. “I always try to look up to him, see how he practice,” Andrei says, though it wasn’t long before he was able to tag along, given that he started skating at age 2. “I learn [that] when I stay another 10, 20 minutes on the ice, shooting pucks, I feel more confident after that,” he says. The week before Evgeny was drafted 15th overall in 2015, for instance, the brothers joined agent Todd Diamond at a local Ft. Lauderdale gym for daily 6:30 a.m. workouts. “I think he’d play 12 months a year if it were possible,” Diamond says of Andrei. “Eighty-two games isn’t enough for him. He’s doing what he loves to do.

Asked about his childhood in Barnaul, located several hours from Siberia, Svechnikov describes a “tough life. Sometimes we didn’t have enough food,” he says. “But my parents did everything for my brother and me. They move everywhere we have to go to be better hockey players.” One such place was the city of Kazan, where Andrei spent two seasons before leaving for the North American junior hockey ranks in ‘16-17, and where he recently took some of the money from his $950,000 rookie contract to build a spacious apartment for his whole Svechnikov family to enjoy.

After spending one season with the USHL’s Muskegeon (Mich.) Lumberjacks and then capturing OHL rookie of the year honors on the Barrie Colts in ‘17-18, Svechnikov entered the 2018 draft as NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater. With Buffalo locked on Dahlin, the Hurricanes were gifted an easy choice, though it helped that Svechnikov blew away Carolina’s front office during his combine interview with his strong English and deep hockey knowledge; in particular, Waddell recalls Svechnikov asking a volley of curious questions about Ilya Kovachuk, a fellow Russian and one of Waddell’s former players with the Atlanta Thrashers.

“He was always very at ease, very honest,” Waddell says. “Some of those interviews are so staged. I came away from there saying, ‘this kid is the real deal.’”

Whether the Hurricanes would’ve chosen Svechnikov over Dahlin if they had nabbed the No. 1 pick is a hypothetical that still sparks friendly discussion in their scouting meetings, according to Waddell, as recently as last week. “Now, of course, that we know Andrei, all of my guys will say Andrei,” says Waddell. “That’s too tough.” But everything turned out fine. Dahlin is a cornerstone blueliner who could win a Norris Trophy. And Svechnikov?

“We were just hoping, when we got the pick, that we would get someone who was a star,” Carolina owner Tom Dundon says. “And I think we did.”

***

Want some magic? Svechnikov can oblige. Bored with his existing activity options on team flights last season, he decided to delve into the fine art of legerdemain. “I was like, I have to do something,” he says. A few YouTube videos and practice sessions later, and he was baffling teammates by plucking their chosen card out of a shuffled deck, or making a coin disappear. This year, a stage magician visited Raleigh to perform for the Hurricanes and taught Svechnikov several more tricks that he is excited about debuting for his teammates.

Granted, there’s nothing wrong with rolling out a crowd-pleasing classic either. Such was the case on Dec. 17, when Svechnikov corralled a loose puck below the right faceoff dot, wheeled behind the Winnipeg net, pivoted to his forehand, and struck his second lacrosse goal, this time without breaking skating stride. Watch the goal again. Pay attention to Carolina captain Jordan Staal in the slot. It’s hilarious. As Svechnikov begins celebrating, Staal just … stands there, staring at the coin slot-sized space where Svechnikov tucked the puck, arms raised in disbelief.

“I knew it was coming,” Staal says. “I was soaking it in, to be honest.”

Svechnikov first learned about the lacrosse shot after Nashville’s Mikael Granlund pulled it off for Finland at the 2011 World Championships. But several years passed before he started practicing in earnest, inspired by seeing Evgeny try it after one of their summer training sessions back home in Russia. “I came to him,” Svechnikov says, “I was like, ‘Bro, you have to teach me that for sure. I have to know how to do that.” The dirty secret? He stunk at first. “Then I try to do that more and more,” he says. “That’s how I think I [have] improve[d] so much.”

As always, Svechnikov had faith that hard work would pay off. But even he couldn't have predicted how widespread the move has become, from Nashville winger Filip Forsberg's successful try this week to the "Svech Challenge" held by some of the girls teams in the Jr. Hurricanes program, in which players shared videos of their attempts. "This season, it’s got like so popular, you know?" Svechnikov said. "It’s so fun when you see some like 8-year-old kid doing that as a game, parents so happy for him. It’s so fun."

The official name for the move, pioneered in the 1990s by minor-league journeyman Bill Armstrong and the University of Michigan’s Mike Legg, has become a matter of regional preference. But the choice is clear in Raleigh. “People know the name Andrei Svechnikov now,” Williams says, “and he should probably trademark The Svech.” For his part, Svechnikov declines to wade into that debate. “Doesn’t matter for me,” he says. “I mean, I would love if people would call it The Svech or something. I’m not going to call that way. [That would be] a little bit cocky. I’m just going to call it The Michigan.”

Besides, assuming his career continues to progress at its current pace, Svechnikov will be known for plenty more than any one or two tallies. “He doesn’t really know how strong he is and how fast he is,” Staal says, “but when he gets going he’s almost impossible to stop.” Like any young player, his game includes the occasional “hiccup,” as Brind’Amour puts it, whether a defensive lapse or an ill-advised trip to the penalty box. But the Hurricanes aren’t shy about projecting his potential, singling out his slick hands with the puck, keen vision, and wicked wrist shot. “He’s going to score 50 goals in this league, there’s no doubt about it,” Waddell says.

Still, Svechnikov isn’t the type to limit himself. Not with the countless hours spent firing pucks or testing skate blades after everyone else has gone home. Not with the on-ice battles from which he refuses to back down. (Just ask Alex Ovechkin.) And not with a single signature move, no matter how super sick it might be. After all, there is always something new to try, some other way to have fun. “Now I can do other things, right?” he says. “Now I can do other things.”