Detroit Red Wings treatment of Evgeny Svechnikov is unusual. Here’s how

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Red Wings have veered from their usual path when it comes to Evgeny Svechnikov, a former first-round pick who has struggled to make an impact.

Svechnikov was added to the taxi squad Feb. 16, seemingly an encouraging sign for the 24-year-old winger. But he didn’t get into the lineup when the Wings played the next day, and stayed on the taxi squad even when he could have been reassigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins and played in their games last week. That’s an unusual pattern from a team that has a history of wanting its prospects to play in the minors if they aren’t playing in Detroit.

Coach Jeff Blashill downplayed the team’s decision, describing it as a day-to-day process.

“Right now he’s on the taxi squad,” Blashill said Thursday. “He was down in Grand Rapids to get started. We’ve cycled guys on and off the taxi squad — that gives us the ability to have guys here in case we need them, and also to get them games. So we will see what tomorrow brings.”

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The Wings start a four-game road trip Saturday. The Griffins play Friday and Sunday in a home-and-home with the Chicago Wolves.

It has been testing and at times tedious time for Svechnikov since the Wings selected hm with the 19th pick in 2015. He started well by recording 20 goals among 51 points in 74 games with the Griffins in his first year of professional hockey, in 2016-17, adding 12 points in 19 games en route to the AHL championship.

Since that season, he has struggled.

Svechnikov recorded only seven goals among 23 points in 57 games with the Griffins in 2017-18; in 14 appearances with the Wings, he has two goals and two assists. A knee injury during an exhibition game the following fall cost Svechnikov all of 2018-19. He had no points in four games with the Wings last season, and 25 points in 51 games with the Griffins.

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Three days before this season began, the Wings exposed Svechnikov on waivers.

“The thing about waivers is, you kind of have an idea of if guys are going to get claimed or not,” Blashill said. “You never know for sure, but you certainly have an idea.

“Unfortunately for Svech, he’s been out a lot. At that point, we didn’t think there was much risk based on the fact he just hasn’t played much.”

When the Wings announced their roster Jan. 12 — roughly three weeks before the AHL was scheduled to start its season — former first-round picks Dennis Cholowski (2016) and Michael Rasmussen (2017) were on the taxi squad. Svechnikov was not.

He had a goal and an assist and a minus-2 rating in three games with the Griffins before landing on the taxi squad.

“In the end, he’s got to one, continue to be healthy,” Blashill said. “It’s been a hard thing for him. Two, when he gets opportunity, he has to show he’s a guy who can help our NHL team win. If he does that, whether it’s here or down there, then he’ll get more opportunity.

“Ultimately, and I think Svech knows this, it’s to try to bring an energy, a physicality, with some scoring touch. There’s a number of guys in the league that are like that, and I think if he can find a way to bring that energy and physicality, because he is a big man — he can bring the energy. He wants to play hard. And then provide some scoring touch. Again, when he gets opportunity, he has to demand that he gets more opportunity.”

General manager Steve Yzerman extended Svechnikov for one year last August. Svechnikov will be a restricted free agent after the season, but nearly six years after they drafted him, it’s clear the Wings don’t see Svechnikov as a rebuilding block.

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Drafting in hindsight is easy, of course, but it’s tempting to speculate how much further along the Wings would be had they made a different choice in 2015. Brock Boeser (23rd, Vancouver Canucks) is on pace for what will be his third 20-goal season and had a .83 points-per-game average in 220 career games. Travis Konecny (24th, Philadelphia Flyers) has posted three 24-goal seasons and carries a .62 points-per-game average. Svechnikov has four points in 20 career games.

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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