Skip to main content

Russian prospects hope for success at Traverse City

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Detroit Red Wings prospect Evgeny Svechnikov should note that Pavel Datsyuk made his Red Wings debut at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.

Svechnikov, a first-round pick (No. 19) in the 2015 NHL Draft, is hoping he can follow in the footsteps of Datsyuk by making a lasting impression to a successful NHL career.

As one of three high-profile Russian players participating in the tournament this week at Centre Ice Arena, Svechnikov is excited to be wearing the winged wheel and catching up with friends and fellow countrymen Ivan Barbashev (2014 draft, No. 33) of the St. Louis Blues and Sergey Tolchinsky (undrafted free agent) of the Carolina Hurricanes.

"There's going to be a little chirping in Russian if we do get an opportunity to play against each other," Barbashev said.

Tolchinsky (5-foot-8, 170 pounds) said he wishes he was as big as Svechnikov (6-foot-2, 201). Svechnikov admitted he wishes he had the hands of Tolchinsky.

"Everyone wants to move to North America to prove themselves," Barbashev said. "It's probably better here to play in the junior league than play in Russia."

A majority of NHL teams believe that Russian players do have a greater interest in moving to North America at a younger age in an effort to get to the NHL faster. At the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., 14 NHL teams selected a total of 17 Russian players, the most in 11 years.

Mark Morris, coach of the Charlotte Checkers, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, isn't surprised that more Russian players are making the move.

"The NHL is the greatest League in the world and a lot of the guys coming across the ocean are starting to realize that," Morris said. "Just by the way you're treated, the buildings you play in and all the rewards you get when you reach the NHL. It makes it all worth it."

Barbashev (6-foot-0, 181 pounds), who agreed to a three-year entry-level contract on July 21, 2014, likely will begin the season with the AHL's Chicago Wolves. As an assistant captain with the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, Barbashev had 45 goals and 95 points in 57 games.

"I was called up for the AHL playoffs but didn't get a chance to play but I did practice with the team and that was good experience," Barbashev said.

Wolves coach John Anderson can see a difference in the play of Barbashev in his second year in Traverse City.

"Last year I don't think he had a very good camp," Anderson said. "He came to the Wolves for the last two or three games, and from what I saw from start of last year to where he was when we got him, it was a completely different player. He was more confident with the puck, strong on it, very responsible defensively. He's grown leaps and bounds and I really have liked what I've seen from him in this tournament."

If Tolchinsky doesn't remain with the Hurricanes out of training camp, he's expected to play his first full season in Charlotte. He had 30 goals and 95 points in 61 regular-season games as an alternate captain for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

"This is my fourth year in North America; I think I've forgotten what Russian rinks look like," Tolchinsky said. "I'm used to the North American game. I must work on my strength and my defensive side of the play. I can't take too many risks and I have to play smart; those are my priorities."

In two games at the tournament, Tolchinsky has two goals, three points and a plus-2 rating.

Morris, who is coaching the Hurricanes prospects in Traverse City, would look forward to working with Tolchinsky in Charlotte. Tolchinsky was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract by the Hurricanes on Aug. 22, 2013.

"He's one of those guys who has a knack to really turn it up and be creative," Morris said. "I think that he's going to be a special player but we just have to teach him all the elements of the defensive side in order for him to be that 200-foot player."

Svechnikov, 18, won't turn pro this season but ranked second among QMJHL rookies in scoring with 32 goals and 78 points in 55 games for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. His 0.95 points-per-game were second-best among draft eligible QMJHL forwards.

"I look forward to stepping on the ice and improving every day," Svechnikov said. "This is my first experience [in Traverse City] so I just want to be myself and do my best.

"Traverse City is very nice and relaxing. Our hotel is nice and we can play golf. The place reminds me a little of Sochi [Russia]."

Todd Nelson, coach of the the Red Wings' AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins, likes the way Svechnikov competes each shift.

"He's a big strong guy, strong in the corners and has a good skill set," Nelson said. "I wasn't sure how he would compete but he was hard on the puck."

Svechnikov has two assists and a plus-1 rating in two games for the Red Wings in the tournament.

"For most of the guys here, this is the fastest pace they've seen so Evgeny just needs to learn that pace and get that chemistry with his teammates," said Jiri Fischer, Red Wings director of player development. "He's crafty, creative and a down-low player. He's got tricks and rolls and he can play a give-and-go. I like that he wants to makes plays and hates to lose battles."

---

View More