ANALYSIS: Appreciative Svechnikov fitting right in with Jets

You get the sense the Evgeny Svechnikov story is still in the early stages, far from the finished and fully edited product.

Where he ends up on the depth chart and how big his contribution might eventually be with the Winnipeg Jets is still very much up in the air, but what has become abundantly clear is his appreciation for the opportunity and the value he’s already brought to the organization.

Svechnikov took his turn in the spotlight earlier this week when his younger brother Andrei was in town with the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, this wasn’t the first head-to-head matchup for the brothers, but it was still an incredibly special one as it was the first time that parents Igor and Elena were in attendance to see them face one another in the NHL.

And when you consider some of the challenges the family faced in order to help Evgeny and Andrei realize their dream of playing in the NHL, it was easy to understand why the moment meant so much to the entire family.

“What they’ve done for us since Day 1, there’s a lot to it,” Evgeny said.

“It was super hard. There’s no five minutes to it, there’s so much days and hours to explain. But just a tough life, not having money, not having things every family can have. Sleeping on the floors, not having much food and mom and dad grinding at work every day and night. Just trying to make money, bringing it to us, trying to feed us enough, a little bit.

“Dedicated parents who did everything for us, switched cities, drive for three days to another city and put everything on the table. Just risking (everything), giving their life to us. I will never forget it. I’m fortunate sitting here because of them.”

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Those sacrifices were plentiful and heart-wrenching when you consider the family had to move out of its home city of Neftegorsk after a devastating earthquake hit.

“There’s so much. My mom worked at the rink as a manager at daytime and at nighttime, she was cleaning floors,” said Svechnikov.

“My dad was delivering cakes all over Russia, city to city. He was driving like 20 hours. He would be gone for weeks to just deliver cakes, that was his job.

“Before that, he was a doctor for 20 years, but (switching) cities forced them to switch their jobs. When they started making a little bit more money, they started quitting jobs and working less. There was so much more jobs they had. It was a lot.”

Gratitude is a sentiment we’ve seen from Svechnikov since his arrival at the Jets pro camp, which served as a precursor to training camp.

You never really know what to expect from a first-round selection whose organization essentially had given up on him before his 25th birthday. There are sure to be questions.

But Svechnikov has consistently mentioned how appreciative he was for this opportunity with the Jets, which began with him signing an AHL contract with the Manitoba Moose and an invitation to attend training camp on a pro tryout offer.

Svechnikov probably could have chosen an opportunity back in the KHL with more security and more money, but he wasn’t about to abandon his NHL dream.

Thanks to a strong training camp and exhibition season, Svechnikov was able to convert his tryout into a one-year contract for the league minimum with the organization that showed plenty of interest in his services leading up to the 2015 NHL draft.

If Kyle Connor hadn’t been available with the 17th selection in that draft, there’s a good chance the relationship between Svechnikov and the Jets would have started a few years earlier.

Instead, Svechnikov was chosen two spots later by the Detroit Red Wings, where he spent the first four seasons of his professional career.

When he wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer at the end of July, Svechnikov became an unrestricted free agent and surveyed the landscape before betting on himself, agreeing to terms with the Moose while focusing his attention on ending up with the Jets.

This isn’t about Svechnikov trying to make up for lost time, it’s about him living up to his potential and finding a place he feels comfortable.

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Whether that’s playing on the fourth line and playing a complementary role on the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor like he did for a stretch earlier this season, Svechnikov is doing his part — and doing it well.

In Sunday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Svechnikov showcased the blistering shot and release that’s been evident during many practice days, converting a pass from Dominic Toninato on a two-on-one rush, high to the blocker side of Joseph Woll.

This was a goal scorer’s goal, the kind he scored with great frequency when he and Dubois were teammates with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL back in the day.

Svechnikov with the Detroit Red Wings in 2016.

Svechnikov with the Detroit Red Wings in 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Svechnikov believes that was also a sign of things to come, not just a one-off.

“It just feels like the work you are putting in is paying off,” said Svechnikov, who has two goals and eight points in 24 games going into Thursday’s tilt with the Seattle Kraken.

“I’ve had a bunch of chances, they just never got in. But it’s a relief and it’s just one and hopefully after this one goes more. I’ve got to keep working on it, keep shooting more.”

Shooting more is something the Jets would like Svechnikov to do.

He’s been credited with 32 shots on goal so far and is riding a shooting percentage of 6.3, a number that’s likely to rise along with his confidence as time goes on.

“Right now, it’s playing with the guys he’s playing with because he deferred on a whole bunch of pucks when he played with Dubois and Connor,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

“That just makes you smart. Why wouldn’t you give it to those two guys? They both can shoot it and they both can score. What we didn’t see was him shooting the puck.

“You get out with a different player (and) you get a green light with the guys you’re playing with, and you start to shoot the puck more, your confidence starts to come, and you start to think like that.

“That would open the door, at some point, for him coming back in and playing with players that can make plays.”

So there you have it, Svechnikov remains very much in the mix for a promotion up the lineup at some point.

The other thing Svechnikov has done incredibly well is fit in with his new teammates.

Whether it’s his gregarious nature or because of his appreciation for the journey as he works to earn the distinction of becoming an NHL regular, Svechnikov can usually be seen with a smile on his face.

His love for the game has been on full display.

But don’t mistake that joy for casualness, either.

Svechnikov brings a certain intensity to his game as well. There’s some edge to go along with his skill and size and he’s shown a willingness to mix it up with opponents.

Although he’s much more reserved when sitting at a podium and his humble nature prevents his personality from fully coming out when talking about himself, Svechnikov earned a number of new fans during a recent Mic’d Up episode — where the one-liners were almost as impressive as his one-timer.

“This guy is so positive about everything,” said Maurice.

“He’s incredibly polite, funny as hell, which is usually a sign of extreme intelligence — if you can be funny in two languages. I don’t know if he’s funny in Russian, so I can’t say that, but he’s funny in English. So if you’re funny in a second language, you’re probably pretty funny, and you’re certainly smart. He’s an energy giver.

“You all saw the Mic’d Up video he did. That’s just him. He’s just funny and hopeful and bright. He’s been a great pickup for our team.”

Given how hard Svechnikov has worked just to reach this point, it would surprise no one if he’s just scratching the surface and that the best is yet to come for him.

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