RALEIGH — Andrei Svechnikov is far from a finished product. But as the regular season approaches its end, the Hurricanes’ 22-year-old power forward looks more and more like a player ready to wreak havoc on the NHL postseason.
“He plays playoff hockey, there’s no doubt about it,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said Sunday.
That postgame comment came after Svechnikov followed a two-point first period with a thunderous hit on Anaheim defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in the second that ruffled the feathers of the Ducks in Carolina’s 5-2 win.
The difference between Svechnikov now and the 19-year-old rookie who was on the wrong end of a fight with Alex Ovechkin in his third career playoff game is having a better grasp of the big picture.
“I’ve got something to lose here,” Svechnikov said after Sunday’s game. “We’ve made the playoffs, and the last time I fought I broke my finger. It wasn’t good and, you know, I’ve got to stay calm.”
While his last fight — a Nov. 24 scrap with Seattle’s Vince Dunn — showcased Svechnikov’s improved pugilistic skills, both he and the Hurricanes know he can do the most damage when he’s on the ice.
“Obviously, we don’t want him in the box,” Brind’Amour said. “(It’s good that) he can keep his cool when it was a clean hit and there’s some cheap shots after.”
That hasn’t always been the case for Svechnikov, who has been prone to retaliatory penalties in the past when teams got under his skin.
“He’s a guy that gets frustrated because he gets called for everything,” Brind’Amour said earlier this month while adding that Svechnikov often doesn’t get the calls the other way.
But there’s been a noticeable evolution in Svechnikov’s game in recent months. After registering 40 hits in the season’s first 26 games, Svechnikov was credited with 133 in the next 44 games — nearly twice as many per game.
He’s been credited with five or more hits five times this season — all Carolina wins — and has shown he can still produce points when upping the ante physically. In his 18 games with four or more hits, he has 19 points.
Most importantly, Svechnikov has been able to stay out of the box on nights when he’s been the aggressor. In those 18 four-hit games, Svechnikov has taken just six penalties.
“I think where he’s grown is the retaliation stuff,” said defenseman Jaccob Slavin, the authority on the topic as the league’s reigning Lady Byng winner as most gentlemanly player. “Not slashing guys as much or cross-checking guys as much when they come at him. … He’s always been a physical kid and so he’s never shied away from it.”
That showed Sunday in the aftermath of Svechnikov’s hit on Shattenkirk.
On an earlier shift, Shattenkirk slashed Svechnikov before hopping off the ice. Rather than going outside the rulebook to retaliate the next time the two were on the ice, Svechnikov lined up the Ducks defenseman and shouldered him into the boards.
When Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf later jawed at Svechnikov before a faceoff and followed that with a cross-check and a slash after the puck was dropped, Svechnikov didn’t engage.
That is until he saw an opportunity and went skate-to-skate on Getzlaf in the neutral zone, sending the Anaheim captain to the ice and into a rage that resulted in five penalties between the two teams.
Svechnikov was called for tripping but the Hurricanes came out of the melee with a power play.
“The fact that he’s staying out of the box the best he can,” Brind’Amour said with a grin, “he’s doing a better job.”