With another late pick in the 1st round of the NHL Draft this year, the Canadiens would not be wise to trust their fate to fortune and expecting a high-value skater to slide to 26th overall, but strange things happen in each draft, and if such players fall they should be ready to seize on the opportunity provided.
There was not a great deal of confidence that Nikita Scherbak would be available at 26th overall in 2014, and given the ongoing distrust of teams to be able to recruit and retain Russian-born skaters, Evgeny Svechnikov is not someone the Canadiens should ignore.
After playing in the Russian development league, the MHL, for two seasons where he compiled 45 points in 63 games as a 16 and 17-year old skater, he transferred to the QMJHL, and joined the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. His transfer was based on his intent to raise his profile for the draft and show his commitment to making the NHL.
He stood out as one of the top draft prospects in the QMJHL this season, scoring 32 goals and and 46 assists in 55 games, ranking him 2nd in points-per-game production among 2015 draft eligible skaters at 1.42 per game, second only to Timo Meier's 1.48 PPG .
Standing at 6'03" and weighing at 205 pounds, he offers the ultra-attractive package that so many wish for in a draft prospect; size and skill all at once. Credited with a solid skating stride, he flashes the famous puck skills that almost all Russian skaters seem to born with, and naturally possesses a good shot to go along with it. His offensive awareness is remarkable as well, which leads to him being even more dangerous in the offensive zone as he can both create a play or read a developing one.
He is credited with being a 'new style' power forward by Future Considerations. Rather than using brute force, the skater overwhelms the opposition with speed while using their body to protect the puck and take advantage of their reach to complete plays. He projects largely as an offence-first skater at the moment, but given his age there is plenty of time to develop the rest of his game. He should not be ranked as being completely uncommitted to defending though.
"Incredibly skilled offensive winger. Has a remarkably accurate shot to go along with some magic hands. Could be better defensively, but his game is based around his acute sense of what is happening on the ice in the offensive zone. All-in-all, a deadly player who possesses good size, elite-level skill, and smooth skating."
"Svechnikov is an excellent skater with a long and efficient stride. He edges very nicely and his weight transfer is textbook. All this allows him to change directions very rapidly and he can juke defenders out of position with ease. Great balance and strong on his feet, hard to knock off the puck and hard to poke check. He is extremely atheletic."
"At the Q level he is a man amongst boys and he is incredibly tough to knock off the puck. While Svechnikov is already a dangerous player I think he still has a lot of room to grow. He still has some bad habits, and he could be a more consistent offensive force. Overall I think Svechnikov has both the tools and potential to warrant a high selection and if he continues to pile up the points, the sky is the limit."
"He possesses high-end puck skills especially when in traffic, is always in the right position to be open or receive a pass." NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said of Svechnikov. "He was a prescense on the ice and was always around the net for scoring opportunities. He works and competes with his skill and assets."
Future Considerations: 16th
Hockey Prospect: 18th
McKeen's Hockey: 23rd
ISS Hockey: 18th
Central Scouting Service, North American Skaters: 17th
A long shot to fall to the Habs? Probably so. Some teams are learning to let go of the Russian stereotypes and due to the ongoing financial instabilities of the KHL, teams may be feeling more secure in taking a Russian in the first round. That being said, some teams and their scouting departments are still doubtful about European-born skaters, and this would be an outstanding opportunity for Montreal to further stack their offensive depth.
On paper, he fills a number of check marks for the organization. They have been mired in a lack of talent on the left wing far longer than it should have been allowed to go on and his skills are undeniable going by the scouts. While he is older than a fair number of his peers, this could be counted as a positive given he has only one year left to play in the QMJHL before he can join the AHL, and his production was 10th-best in points-per-game in his league in 2014-15.
Odds are, Svechnikov will not be there when it is Montreal's turn to go up to the podium, and given they are lacking both 2nd and 4th round picks in the coming draft, a trade up using picks may not be that likely either. He is an enticing option that definitely demands attention if his name creeps into the 20s.