Over a professional hockey career, priorities for a player often shift with age. For Evgeny Svechnikov, the chance to be around new teammates, coaches and culture was too good to give up, even if it meant beginning deep down the depth chart.
That’s what Svechnikov faces here in Winnipeg, a journey that officially began this week at Jets minicamp. The 24-year-old has played in 41 NHL games for the Red Wings, including 21 last season, registering five goals and seven assists.
But he’s in Winnipeg on a minor league contract with the Manitoba Moose, and, given all the forward talent on the Jets, will likely spend all of the 2021-22 campaign in the American Hockey League. Turns out, despite being drafted in the first round, 19th overall, by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2015 NHL Draft, Svechnikov has an affinity for the hockey-crazed Prairie city.
"I just wanted to give myself a fresh start. Meet some new staff, some new people and give myself a new opportunity. Winnipeg was my choice," Svechnikov said. "I was very excited because it’s a hockey world and I love it so much. Getting drafted, I was invited here before the draft, so my heart was stuck to Winnipeg and was very excited once the opportunity came up."
There isn’t a lot of room at forward on the Jets, and Svechnikov is behind a few prospects fighting for a job on the club. He’s also not a big scorer, more of a bottom-six player who can bring some muscle to the lineup.
Svechnikov is 6-3, 208 pounds, the kind of power forward that isn’t concerned about putting up goals and will do anything to earn another chance in the NHL. If it’s scoring the Jets want, well, he feels capable of providing offence, too.
"I can bring a skilled game. I think there’s spots that I can put myself in a position to bring some offensive side," he said. "Also, some heavy game, be physical...if I can bring a little more physicality and handling the puck down low and make some plays in tight areas, I think that will benefit not just me, but the team too."
Svechnikov didn’t want to get into specifics of what went wrong in Detroit other than to say it was for a few reasons. He’s battled injuries over his career, including missing the entire 2018-19 season with a torn ACL.
"It was some things that wasn’t going the right way and I think I did everything right every year," he said. "Obviously, injuries set me back a little bit, too. But I think I had hard times, I had good times. I’m taking away some good stuff going forward. Some things don’t work out with some guys, so just excited to switch something and join the Winnipeg Jets."
Svechnikov, who was born in Russia but played his junior hockey in Canada, already has a close friend in Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. The two played together on the Cape Breton Eagles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and were even linemates.
When Dubois caught word Svechnikov might be heading to Winnipeg, he reached out in an attempt to persuade him to move. The deal had already been sealed.
"Yeah, he was very excited," Svechnikov said
"He text me, ‘Is that true,’ when he saw some rumours. I said, ‘Yes’ and was happy. He said, ‘Let’s get back to the juniors,’ some chemistry we had back in the day. I’m pumped to see him. He’s developed his game very well, too. I’m excited to join him."
Svechnikov won’t be disappointed if he can’t crack the Jets roster out of training camp and he’ll certainly add value to the Moose. In 186 games with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, he has 39 goals and 62 assists for 101 points.
"I think you learn a lot, not just on the ice, but off the ice, too. How the guys work. How to be a pro. How to approach the game and how to show up every day and do the work. Learn off-ice to do the video," he said.
"Those times in the American league help you a lot. They bring that game to the NHL level and I think some guys go there and be sad, but if focus on every day and do everything right, it’s going to benefit you in the long run. It helped me a lot."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.