As they say, it’s better to be lucky than good — or in this case, really bad.
It was luck that landed the Carolina Hurricanes the second overall pick, and it was common sense that led them to select Barrie Colts right wing Andrei Svechnikov on Friday night at the NHL Draft in Dallas.
The dynamic power forward was the clear-cut second best player in the draft — behind defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who went first to Buffalo — and should bring more goals to a team already hoping its young talent, led by emerging star Sebastian Aho and promising prospect Martin Necas, can turn this year’s horseshoe into a stable of thoroughbreds.
In watching the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Svechnikov, one can witness the speed, power, finesse and skill of the Barnaul, Russia, native. The tape doesn’t lie, and neither do the stats.
Svechnikov was the Ontario Hockey League Rookie of the Year after scoring 40 goals in just 44 games, totaling 72 points to lead all first-year OHL players in points per game.
His goal total is often cited, but there’s an equally impressive stat from the Russian right winger’s one OHL season: 24 of his 32 assists were primary assists. That means Svechnikov’s primary points per game (goals plus primary assists) was 1.45 — best in the OHL among all players, not just draft-eligible prospects.
The scouting reports echo what the stats and one’s own eyes can see: Dynamic. Dangerous. Game-breaking ability. Dominating.
And great. A great player with an equally tenacious work ethic and grounded personality.
In the midst of a nine-year playoff drought, the Hurricanes have never bottomed out the way teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks did early in the 2000s. While those teams, powered by top picks Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago, won multiple Stanley Cups, Carolina sputtered along — too mediocre to reach the postseason, but not so dreadfully awful as to land top-tier talent at the NHL Draft.
The Hurricanes, under new owner Tom Dundon, seemed poised to be in the same boat this weekend. The team was slotted to pick 11th overall based on the 2017-18 NHL standings — the third straight year the team would pick in the double digits and 12th year in a row they’d pick later than third.
So when Don Waddell, not yet the official general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, traveled to Toronto for the April 28 NHL Draft Lottery, he and the team had nothing more than a puncher’s chance — about 3 percent — of jumping into one of the top three spots in the 2018 draft.
“When you go into the day and you start off with the No. 11 pick, you worry about going backwards,” Waddell said after Carolina jumped to No. 2 overall. “You know you’ve got a 3 percent chance to go forward. And then when it got to be No. 11 and our name didn’t come up there, it’s like, ‘Wow, do you believe just what happened?'”
Fast forward to Friday, and the Hurricanes used that pick to take Svechnikov.
Unlike the Hurricanes as a franchise, Waddell has experience selecting Russians high in the draft. As GM in Atlanta, he took Ilya Kovalchuk — who went on to become one of there NHL’s dominant point producers before he returned to Russia — first overall in 2001.
He also selected, with less success, Alexander Burmistrov at No. 8, one pick after Carolina drafted Jeff Skinner. Burmistrov, like Svechnikov, played one season with the OHL’s Barrie Colts but never panned out as an NHLer. After 24 games with Vancouver last season, he too returned to Russia to play in the KHL.
Despite the miss on Burmistrov, Waddell did hit the mark four years earlier on a forward out of Barrie, taking Bryan Little 12th overall in 2006. Little, who is still with the franchise in Winnipeg, has 200 goals and 475 points in more than 750 NHL games.
Svechnikov will have his own NHL story to write and — thanks to a little luck — it will start in Carolina.