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Wings land big Russian in first round

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Evgeny Svechnikov walks to the podium at BB&T Center after the Red Wings made him the No. 19 overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft on Friday evening. (Photo by Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Fla. – For Tyler Wright and the Red Wings amateur scouting staff, Evgeny Svechnikov was too good to pass on in the first round of Friday night’s NHL draft at BB&T Center.

The Red Wings used the No. 19 overall pick on the 6-foot-2 Russian forward.

Recently converted from left wing to center, Svechnikov is the highest drafted Russian-born player ever taken by the Red Wings, who have drafted a few good ones in the past 25 years.

“We were talking about possible trade options because we don’t have a second (round pick),” said Wright, the club’s director of amateur scouting. “But we believe he’s too good to pass on and we had to step up and take him.”

Not knowing a word of English before arriving in North America last fall, Svechnikov spent the 2014-15 season in Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, finishing third among the Screaming Eagles with 32 goals and 78 points in 55 games.

Svechnikov is the first Russian the Wings have taken in the first round since defenseman Max Kuznetsov was the 26th overall pick in 1995.

His brother Andrei is projected to be a high pick in the 2018 NHL entry draft.

Wright believes that Svechnikov gives the Red Wings greater depth at forward in the organization, joining talented forwards Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi.

According to Red Line, an independent scouting service, Svechnikov is like a freight train gathering speed when he barrels down the wing. “Has a long, deceptive stride, and is agile and well balanced laterally. Breaks through small openings and gets to scoring territory. Skilled winger with soft, quick hands. Can dangle at speed and finishes around net with a sharp, accurate wrist shot. Plays well in traffic and along the boards. Has made a quick transition to North American game and is not afraid to play mean – chippy in scrums and uses his stick to make room for himself. Persistent on the forecheck in puck pursuit, and separates defenders from the puck when he lays on the body. Uses a nice blend of size, skill and hockey sense to generate offence once he gains possession in the offensive zone. Effort away from the puck needs to be much more consistent.”

Svechnikov plans to spend his second summer working on his game, as well as his English, in Montreal. Staying in Canada for the past year has certainly helped in his development.

“It was really important. For me it’s a huge step, for NHL, and I wanted to come here year before but couldn’t,” said Svechnikov, who's brother Andrei is projected to be a high pick in the 2018 NHL draft. “It’s very important for me because I want to play in the NHL.”

Aside from hockey, Svechnikov, who is still learning the English language, already knows what he likes most about North American living: chocolate milk and cookies.

“I could go for some right now,” he said, laughing.

Meanwhile, the Red Wings took to Svechnikov almost the first time amateur scout Mario Marois watched him play.

“Our staff loved him,” Wright said. ““I hate to put a limit on what we might be. I just think the full package, we just want to make sure that we develop him in the right process and give him every resource possible to succeed. I don’t know what the ceiling is on him. I think this is a guy who can play in the top six forwards and help you win for a long period of time.”

The draft continues Saturday with rounds 2-7, beginning at 10 a.m. EST, at BB&T Center. The Wings did not have a second-round pick, having dealt it to Dallas in the trade deadline deal that brought veteran forward Erik Cole to Detroit in early March.

Barring any trades, the Red Wings will have six more picks beginning in the third round with the No. 73 overall selection. Detroit also has picks at No. 110 (fourth), No. 140 (fifth), No. 170 (sixth) and No. 200 (seventh).

ANDERSSON SIGNING: The Red Wings signed Joakim Andersson on Friday to a one-year contract. The 26-year-old Andersson was eligible to become a restricted free agent on July 1.

Andersson has been invaluable in his role as a fourth-line grinder, as well as a tenacious penalty killer. He played 68 games, producing three goals and eight points with a minus-4 in his third full season with the Red Wings.

“Think back to the Chicago series a couple of years ago, three years ago when he was on a line with (Damien) Brunner and (Gustav) Nyquist,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “That was a good line, an important line for us in the playoffs. I know that Jeff Blashill will tinker with different line combinations. Is Luke Glendening a fourth-line center? Does Glendening move up? Certainly Andy can play in the four hole so it’s a brand new coach, a brand new opportunity for Andy.”

DEBUNKING RUMORS: Some recent media reports have suggested that a few league GMs have contacted Holland about the availability of prospect Anthony Mantha, the Wings’ first-round draft pick in 2013.

While the Red Wings weren’t overly pleased with Mantha’s first pro season in Grand Rapids, they haven’t given up on the grandson of former Montreal star Andre Pronovost.

“There’s been nothing close to doing a deal, and I think the direction that the Detroit Red Wings are going is with the youth,” Holland said. “When I say with the youth, we had 100 points, and half that youth I’m talking about is on the Detroit Red Wings.”

In fairness, Mantha entered his rookie season following a fractured leg, which he suffered in the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City last September. He never fully recovered, Blashill said.

“He had a high, high expectation level that to me was unfair from the beginning,” Blashill said. “That’s what I thought from the very beginning. I think he got injured in a hard spot. I thought he made progress through the year. I think like a lot of other prospects he’s gonna have to continue to make progress. Him and I have talked about what that specific progress is, but I think he’s got a high ceiling. He’s got a big body, who has a great ability. Now he needs to find a way to reach that ceiling. Hopefully he’s doing that every day throughout the summer.”

LARKIN’S CHANCES: Last year’s first-round draft pick, Larkin could wind up in a Red Wings uniform sooner than later.

The Waterford, Michigan native had a very impressive 2014-15 season while competing at four different levels – college, World Juniors, World Championships, and the American Hockey League playoffs.

“He’s answered the bell so far in every opportunity,” Blashill said. “He’s done a great job. Now so far it’s been a small sample size for me specifically. This summer will have a lot to do with where he’s at come the fall, then kind of where our picture sits in the fall, and how good he is in camp. But he’s definitely impressed me so far.”

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