Boys to men: Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas growing into NHL stars
They sat next to each other in the Carolina Hurricanes’ locker room in the summer of 2018, smiling, taking hockey, cutting up a little. Just two teenagers, one Russian and the other Czech, having some fun.
Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas were almost kids, really. Both were first-round draft picks by the Canes – Necas in 2017, Svechnikov a year later – from which much was expected, two young forwards with intriguing potential and special skill sets if differing hockey backgrounds and nationalities.
And look at them now, almost five years later …
“They’re becoming men,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
“You can see it. Their knowledge of the game, them being way more confident in what they’re doing. They’re leaders in the room, talking to other players, knowing what we’ve got to do. You just can see their maturity starting to come.”
Svechnikov, 22, will be at this weekend’s 2023 NHL All-Star Game. Many believe Necas, who just turned 24, should be with him and a lot of Canes fans voted in the NHL’s Twitter poll – if unsuccessfully – trying to make that happen.
That Svechnikov was chosen by the league to represent the Hurricanes on the Metropolitan Division team coached by Brind’Amour came as no surprise to Necas.
“He’s one of those guys who when he came in the league he knew he was going to be a star and he’s proving it,” Necas said last week. “I mean, he’s always been really good. But as he’s getting a little older he’s getting more and more comfortable in the league.”
Svechnikov said he would try to soak up as much as he can from his first All-Star experience in Sunrise, Florida, and make the most of it.
“The first thing is to just have fun,” Svechnikov said. “Secondly, it’s just to be around all those guys from the hockey world,”
Guys like Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Svechnikov has competed against them in the Metro and even engaged Ovechkin in a brief fight in the 2019 playoffs, but never has had the chance to sit next to them in a locker room or be teammates in the All-Star three-on-three tournament.
Svechnikov’s intensity in games rarely wanes and he makes no friends on the ice. Does he really want to be friendly with Metro rivals?
“Yeah, why not?” he said. “You play in the league and you play against them, so it should be fun to get to know those guys and what they do.”
Curiously, Svechnikov will go to the All-Star weekend after being in a scoring slump that has had him play all 15 games in 2023 without a goal. He’s still stuck on 19 for the season.
“As I’ve said, everyone has ups and downs,” Svechnikov said. “I feel like this is that period for me, obviously. I try to stay focused and move on. I’m getting chances, but I know I can play a little better.”
Svechnikov has 57 shots in the 15 games – with a season-high eight against Nashville. His goal drought began just before it was announced he had been named an All-Star.
“I don’t know that it’s on my shoulders (because) I’m going to the All-Star (game),” Svechikov said. “I don’t think so. I just feel like I don’t get the luck and I know I can play better.”
“I have been playing not bad, but there is luck sometimes that goes your way and sometimes doesn’t go your way. I have to (change) that luck.”
Necas has been getting his chances – at times off Svechnikov passes – and making the most of them. He had recent overtime winners against Dallas and San Jose, and has a career-high 21 goals and a team-leading 47 points in 51 games.
“I’ve always said he’s going to be an elite player in this league,” Svechnikov said. “I feel like this year he’s getting more of an opportunity and there’s more confidence in his hands. It’s that confidence and experience, and also him growing into his body.”
Veteran forward Paul Stastny recently had the chance to center the two wingers for a run of games, getting a better feel for their tendencies and strengths on the ice.
“They’re two different kinds of players but both guys want the puck, both want to create,” Stastny said. “Nechie is more the east/west guy with his speed. Get him the puck and let him go one-on-one because he’s going to beat guys and create separation on his own. Svechie can do that, too. He is really good with his power and very strong and confident he can go one-on-one. And very good along the boards.”
Stastny smiled when asked if there were times he has felt like he was in the middle lane between two Ferraris.
“Well, one’s a little heavier than the other,” he said. “But they’re two very dynamic players. I try to get the puck in their hands as quickly as possible.”
While Sebastian Aho is the Canes’ best player, Svechnikov and Necas are following a similar ascent and coming into their own. Svechnikov, like Aho twice before him, now has been named an NHL All-Star.
“He’s been really consistent, works hard, plays a physical game,” Aho said. “Eventually he’s going to start scoring again, a lot., because he has that shot, he has that power. He can skate, he can hit. The biggest thing with him is consistency and he has it.”