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Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov finding his confidence without ducking expectations

Andrei Svechnikov says he took boxing lessons this summer while home in Russia.

Then again, the Carolina Hurricanes forward took the same lessons last summer and where did it get him?

Svechnikov can laugh about it now, and has. But when he and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals squared off last season in the Stanley Cup playoffs, dropping the gloves, Svechnikov wound up down on the ice with a concussion as Ovechkin, a fellow countryman showing no mercy, won the brief fight by a knockout.

Did he learn his lesson? Svechnikov smiled.

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” he said.

Svechnikov’s rookie season was all about lessons, about piecing together different experiences, good, bad, indifferent at least once injurious. The No. 2 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, the Russian had impressive flashes of skill and power but also more than enough rookie mistakes, enough to add to Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour’s worry list.

“Obviously the first couple or three months it was pretty hard and then I think I started to understand this game and score some goals,” Svechnikov said at the team’s recent media day. “Hopefully this season will be better. I want it to be better.”

Some will look at the 20 goals he scored last season and say Svechnikov may be good for 30 in his second year in the league. He has the shot. He has the willingness to go to the net, a power forward in every sense at 6-2 and 195 pounds.

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Carolina Hurricanes’ coach Rod Brind’Amour talks Andrei Svechnikov (37) during practice on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

But Brind’Amour won’t go there, say such things. Why? Personal experience.

“What I don’t want to do is heap a bunch of expectations on him,” Brind’Amour said at media day. “I went through that in my second year. My rookie year was good and then they threw me to the wolves ...”

Overwhelming expectations for Brind’Amour

A first-round pick by the St. Louis Blues in 1988, Brind’Amour scored 26 goals and had 61 points in 1989-90, his rookie season, and 13 points in 12 playoff games. Blues coach Brian Sutter then put Brind’Amour on the top line with Brett Hull in his second season.

“I couldn’t handle it,” Brind’Amour said.

Hull scored a career-high 86 goals, a franchise record. Brind’Amour, then 20, had 17 goals as his point total dipped to 49, and he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers after the 1990-91 season.

“I didn’t want to let anybody down,” Brind’Amour told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1991. “There was pressure to do well and I couldn’t relax.”

Brind’Amour won’t do that with Svechnikov, who turned 19 in March. He probably won’t, say, throw him on the top line with center Sebastian Aho.

In the first two days of training camp, Svechnikov has been on a line with center Jordan Staal and forward Teuvo Teravainen while Aho centered Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel.

“We all see where he can go,” Brind’Amour said of Svechnikov’s potential. “The important thing is not heap a bunch of expectations on him. Give him a little more. He’s going to get more opportunity -- that’s a fact. He’ll obviously have to earn that but I think he’s ready to take it.”

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov (37) skates with his teammates during their practice on Saturday, May 11, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston as they prepare for Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Svechnikov’s confidence

There’s room for improvement. Svechnikov did not have a power-play goal last season. His 62 penalty minutes were a team high as he was constantly reminded by Brind’Amour to get his stick down and avoid stick infractions.

But many of Svechnikov’s analytics — scoring chances, high-danger chances, Corsi, goals for and against — were favorable. His 20 goals ranked third among NHL rookies, trailing Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson (28) and Brady Tkachuk (22) of Ottawa and tying Andreas Johnsson of Toronto.

“But I don’t really feel any pressure this season,” Svechnikov said. “I just want to be a better player.”

Forward Warren Foegele, another rookie forward last year, became a good friend of Svechnikov’s -- “We FaceTimed over the summer,” Foegele said -- and senses a difference in the guy the players call “Svech.”

“His confidence,” Foegele said. “You could see the confidence he had in stretches in the second half of the year and in the playoffs. I think now after going through his first year you’re going to see how confident he can be. He’s a player. I think everyone here is excited to see him. I know I am, too.”

Svechnikov came to training camp saying he has put in the work this summer -- on his shot, his stickhandling, skating.

“I wanted to get stronger, get faster,” he said. “Of course I want to be more aggressive.”

And land the big blows, not take them.

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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