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Fyodor Svechkov: 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; Possibly the Top Defensive Forward

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Fyodor Svechkov is one of the top Russian prospects for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. He is arguably the best defensive forward available, too. There is a lot to like about Svechkov’s game; learn more about it with this prospect profile.

2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championships - Final
The only photo of Fyodor Svechkov in the photostream is this one. Sorry, Svechkov (and Danila Yurov, the other player in this photo).
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Russia has always been a source of hockey talent. There is no question that the nation outputs young players with tantalizing talents. However, access to learn about these players can be limited. Some are thrown onto men’s professional teams where they play so little that you have to make a judgment call on the few times they play anything resembling meaningful minutes. Others are stuck in circumstances related to their team; either being on a real bad team that can undercut what they can do or being on a very good team and stuck behind a lot of other players. There is a “Russian factor” as the KHL teams that often have these players are rich enough to keep the prospect signed and entice them to come back should the NHL not work out. And, as I understand it, watching the VHL or MHL can be a real grind. However, all that means is that it is a often an effort to scout prospects in Russia and when the effort is made, some real interesting players can be found and touted. One of those players is someone who could be the first Russian selected this year: Lada Togliatti center Fyodor Svechkov.

Who is Fyodor Svechkov?

Fyodor Svechkov spent the 2020-21 season with Lada Togliatti and the Russian U-18 team. According to Elite Prospects, Svechkov was born on April 5, 2003 in Togliatti. He is listed at 6’0”, 179 pounds, and has a left-handed shot. EP lists his current contract as ending in the 2022-23 season, so those interested in him will need to know that it will likely take two seasons before he comes over to North America.

Svechkov came up through Lada Togliatti’s youth teams before breaking through with their junior affiliate, Ladia Togliatti in the 2019-20 season. While his production with them will not impress many - 26 games, four goals, six points - he did show up a lot on the scoresheet with the Russian U-17 team. His progress combined with the quality of Lada Togliatti’s roster led to Svechkov getting plenty of appearances with the main team in the VHL, the second best league in Russia.

Here is a link to Lada Togliatti’s player stats from this past season. Note that Togliatti did not make the 16-team postseason in a 26-team league. At first glance, it does not seem impressive. Five goals and ten assists in 38 games does not seem like much. Unlike most 17 year old players in Europe, Svechkov did play regularly for the team. He averaged 12:50 per game and just under 17 shifts per game. He also took 247 faceoffs, second most on the entire team, so there is little doubt he played center. That is impressive. Likewise, Svechkov’s 15 points ranked sixth among forwards on the team and eighth overall. Again, for someone who was mostly 17 throughout the season, that is not a bad return on a low-scoring team (the goal scoring leader had 13 goals in 42 games) in a men’s professional league. Svechkov was moved down to play with players closer to his age in the MHL and averaged a point per game with four goals and 11 assists in 15 games. That is more encouraging for those who want to see prospective players produce.

While the main star of the Russian team at 2021 World U-18s was 16-year old wonderkid Matvei Michkov scoring 12 goals and 16 points in 7 games, Svechkov had himself a very fine tourney. He often centered 2022-draft eligible wingers Danila Yurov and Ivan Miroshnichenko for productive unit that yielded four goals and six assists for Svechkov. As indicated by the headline photo - the only one available of Svechkov in the system, sorry - the tournament ended up being a disappointment as Canada beat Russia in the finals. But a silver medal and finishing fourth on a strong Russian U-18 team is hardly a disappointment for Svechkov from an evaluation perspective.

After the team returned from Frisco, Texas, Svechkov was transferred. On May 10, KHL giants SKA St. Petersburg announced they have acquired Svechkov in exchange for “monetary compensation.” In other words, SKA paid Lada Togliatti a significant amount to get their local homegrown center to grow in their system. On the one hand, this will be a new challenge as SKA is hardly short on young talent. On the other hand, it speaks to Svechkov’s own talent that they made an effort to get him. Plus, it gives Svechkov a pathway to play in the KHL as the VHL-based Lada Togliatti is not affiliated with a KHL team. It is at least further evidence that he is one to watch for in the future. SKA does not spend money to acquire players they think will be scrubs.

Where is Fyodor Svechkov Ranked?

Rankings for Svechkov are all over the place. There are people and services who think really well of him. There are those who are less than impressed. This will be covered in more detail in the next section, but that is the background for the wide array of rankings here:

There is definitely a wide range of opinions about Svechkov. There are some who believe enough in his skillset that he is worthy of being a top-fifteen pick. And in the case of Smaht Scouting, a top-ten pick. In the opposite end, there are a couple who feel Svechkov will be late first rounder or not even a first rounder at all. While Recruit Scouting’s rankings are older, the rankings from Matthew Zator, Andrew Forbes, Scott Wheeler, and McKeen’s are much more recent, were released after the World U-18s, and have him well outside of the top-fifteen. Basically, those who like him really like him and those who do not just do not. This is all the more reason to learn what others have written about the Russian pivot.

What Others Say About Fyodor Svechkov

One the major and consistent points about Fyodor Svechkov is that he has a great defensive game. Unlike most forward prospects where offense is their main appeal and the defense is a question to some extent, Svechkov’s play off the puck and against the opposition has been seen as a strength.

One of the better descriptions of that part of his game comes from Steve Kournianos’ profile of Svechkov at The Draft Analyst:

It is no exaggeration to also call Svechkov an elite defensive forward; at least within the context of his age, scope of responsibility, and actual effectiveness. Not only does he show speed and tenacity when reacting to puck travel, but Svechkov seems to fully understand the concept of supporting his unit by NOT trying to do their jobs. His head is always on a swivel, which helps him maintain elasticity from below the goal line and back to the slot if or when his defenseman release into the corner.

Svechkov also is a critical piece in board-side breakouts, which he and linemate Danila Yurov executed to perfection repeatedly at the under-18 world championship. His stick activity and read-and-react game are phenomenal for such a young center, so any team who drafts him needs to allow Svechkov to be used in roles where he will continue to improve be a difference maker off the puck. He may not be mash-and-bash in the physicality department, but Svechkov is a puck hound who will stick to an opponent like Velcro.

The first paragraph is impressive to read about a player who was 17 throughout the majority of this past season. Defense can be taught, but some players are more adept at it than others. Reading this, it appears Svechkov clearly does. Knowing he does not have to do everything on the ice himself speaks to how he reads the game, which is another positive.

Kournianos made a point of it to highlight Svechkov’s performances at the 2021 World U-18 tournament. Here is a part of his summary of how the Russian center performed:

Nonetheless, Svechkov centered Russia’s powerful top line alongside 2022 draft-eligible wingers Danila Yurov and Ivan Miroshnichenko, and one can make the argument that it was not only one of the best lines in the entire tournament but also the most fun to watch.

Svechkov played a big part in that, as the trio used their high collective IQ’s and quick sticks to make the neutral zone a minefield for defensemen, including those with a reputation for sure-handedness. Therefore, the rapidity and precision of these counterattacks were hard to overlook, especially with the manner in which Svechkov was effortlessly dishing the puck through legs and sticks while moving laterally.

While Svechkov is not someone you would call “big,” it was interesting that Kournianos made a point of it to note how strong he is on the puck. He also made this point when describing his skating, noting that the men of the VHL had some difficulty separating Svechkov from the puck. Kournianos is a fan of Svechkov and wrote plenty of praise about he handles the puck and distributes it in his profile. And that was further supported in his World U-18 recap article. To take another part from that article, anyone who has been following Svechkov closely knows he has been this good with Lada Togliatti even if the results were not there. Again, it is a very positive assessment.

Likewise, Josh Tessler raved quite a bit about Svechkov in his profile of the center at Smaht Hockey. Recall that they ranked him 9th on their final ranking list, so this is another positive assessment. Yet, this part from Tessler about his ability to draw attention with the puck was very encouraging to read:

Svechkov is a strategic forward. He knows that if he skates down the left side of the ice and has two attackers keeping an eye on him that he can shift them over towards him when he drives to the net.

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But, it’s not just Svechkov’s route that draws attackers towards him. When stick-handling and using his reach, he will handle the puck similarly to Matthew Beniers and Mavrik Bourque as he will hold the puck out towards the attacker. By positioning the puck towards the attacker, he can lure them in and free open ice up for his teammates. Once he gets an opportunity to complete a pass, he can burn his attackers.

But, it’s not just puck-handling manipulation, sometimes when Svechkov is down low in the corners of the offensive zone, he will widen stance and thus cuts down on his mobility. With that being said, he can draw the attacker in and use good pivots to avoid the back-check. By drawing in the attacker, he has opened up some more ice in medium danger. So, if Svechkov can find a lane to pass through, he has created a lot of open ice for his teammate.

Paired with his abilities on defense, this is another really impressive trait for a 17-year old who mostly played in a men’s league last season. Being able to create space in multiple ways is a great trait to have on offense. It allows for a more diverse attack, which is great for the team with the puck and not-so-great for the team who has to defend it. Svechkov being able to make lanes open up or get a defender’s attention with the puck on his stick or by how he shields the puck means he really is playing at a higher level. These details may not be easy to see and they do not show up on a scoresheet. But they do help explain why he played regularly in the VHL this season despite kept in the MHL in the prior season.

Tessler’s profile, which I recommend you read in full, is similarly effusive in praise of his defensive abilities. He highlighted how he handles forechecking pressure well, he is able to put himself in good positions for breakouts or defending cycles, and he is aggressive when needed at attacking the puck carrier. Again, it is not common to read for one of the more notable forward prospects in this draft. That stated, I do appreciate that Tessler noted some of Svechkov’s flaws.

Tessler noted that his shot from distance could use some work. He did not shoot the puck a lot and while he was certainly willing to do so from the slot and the circles, he was not particualrly successful at it. He also pointed out that where he places pucks could use some work, but my read of it suggests it can improve over time. Again, Tessler wrote a lot of good things about Svechkov, but I do appreciate that he did note what he could work on.

Now, I will give the last word of this section to Ben Kerr’s profile of Svechkov at Last Word on Sports. While it is ultimately positive, it does point out a major reason why some have not been so high on the Russian center with respect to other prospects in addition to some flaws. While Kerr liked Svechkov’s speed, first stride, his wide stance and his movement in going forward, he thinks he could stand to improve his edgework and turning. While Kerr really liked his stickhandling and play in transition, he also thinks his shot needs work - as well as his patience with that. That is, he found that Svechkov could be too hasty to fire away, which may contribute to the shooting concerns. Kerr’s concluding paragraph does point at one of the major reasons why some have ranked him well outside of the top-fifteen:

Svechkov is a relatively safe pick, but his upside is questionable. His defensive ability and hockey IQ mean that he’s highly likely to make the NHL. He could play on the penalty kill and against top lines. However, there are questions about Svechkov’s offensive game. He needs work on his shot. He also needs to be more patient in the offensive zone. If Svechkov can improve these aspects of his game, he can become a middle-six centre in the NHL.

I had a suspicion that this would be some people’s conclusion. For as positive as Kournianos, Tessler, Scouch (see the next section), and others who are high on him now, I do get a sense that when a forward prospect is highly touted for something most forwards do not do or “doing the little things” there is an implication that their potential may not be that high. And as much as this year’s draft class is filled with more variation than past years, there are some who can see a prospect with a somewhat limited ceiling as not being worth a higher pick.

A Little Video

That said, there is plenty to read about Svechkov, but what about seeing him in action? There are a number of videos that are worth your time to see what Svechkov can do. The primary one to watch is by Will Scouch, who began his 2021 profile series with the center. As with most videos by Scouch, it is worth the full 16:44 of your attention.

Scouch does track games for his prospect analyses and did address the “elephant in the room” that Svechkov showed up pretty bad on some of them. However, he dug into why that was the case and through his viewings, found that a lot of the time, Svechkov was doing plenty right on the ice and it was his teammates who faltered. Which is not a surprise since, again, Lada Togliatti was a bad team. And Scouch supports that with appropriate clips. Again, Scouch is high on Svechkov like Kournianos and Tessler; and so it is understandable that he sees offensive potential where others may see limitations. He does point out that Svechkov could stand to get stronger (like most prospects) and improve his lateral movement (which is consistent with what Kerr found with his skating).

There is more if you want to see more of Svechkov. If you wondered why Scouch referred to watching non-KHL Russian hockey as “sadistic,” then you can get a taste of the MHL with this Svechkov shift-by-shift video put together by Devils in the Details. This is from March 1, 2021 when he was with Ladia Togliatti in a game against HC Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk. Yeah, the pace of play leaves something to be desired, but that’s the MHL and not Svechkov. In the 18:56 of video, you can see Svechkov kill penalties, on a power play, and play in all three zones.

For those who are more interested in highlights, here’s a 10:43 video put together by the Prospect Film Room, which is the Youtube channel of The Draft Analyst. If you are more interested in Svechkov highlights but only at the World U-18s and want them set to a dubstep track, then check out this 2:07 long video by Draft Project.

An Opinion of Sorts

Svechkov could become a very useful player for a lot of teams. While today’s game does not have checking lines or defensive lines, teams do need forwards - especially at center - to be able to perform well in all three zones. Svechkov has demonstrated he can do that at a young age on a poor team in a men’s league. That is impressive on its own and it makes me more confident that he can do that at the next level. He can be one of those forwards you are happy to see on a penalty kill or defending an extra-man situation. He can be one of those centers that can do more on offense than his production may imply, which is absolutely something all 32 NHL teams are looking at in this day and age.

That stated, I do understand the concerns about the player. I do not think most of them are bad. Edgework and turning can be refined. The shot can be practiced. Patience can be learned. If the worry is about how he did in the VHL, then I would point to his MHL work and play at the World U-18s to show that if you put him among his peers, he can shine. If we are not going to ding other prospects (e.g. Simon Edvinsson, Isak Rosén) for being in over his head a bit with men, then Svechkov should not be dinged either. Besides, he got regular playing time in a Russian men’s league - and on a bad team - before he was 18. That is uncommon and speaks well of the player’s talents.

Of course, the major concern is the upside. The sense I get reading about Svechkov is that he is a “safe” prospect. He is someone who will most likely get a NHL job and can keep one for a long time. That is usually what you would want out of any draft pick at a minimum. But if you are picking in the top-fifteen in any draft, the expectation has to be a little higher than “likely to be a NHL player.” You would want someone who can drive or lead a line. Someone who can play a significant role. Even defensive players at the NHL, such as Devils cult hero Jay Pandolfo, were big scorers and players before they made it to the NHL. Svechkov might turn out to be that player in time, but it is not so unreasonable to think otherwise. And if he does not then whoever picks him has to accept that.

I can accept that for the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are pretty set at center for their top two lines for years to come. Should Svechkov end up hitting that high floor but low ceiling of a third line center in a few years, then that would be absolutely fine. I do not think he would undercut or be undercut by Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. As he shoots left, he could even be shifted to left wing as needed. I could see him being a player that ends up doing plenty of things well and can play in all situations. He may end up being a complementary player as opposed to someone who controls shifts regularly or runs plays. And any glut of forwards that could be in his way now may not be in his way when his contract ends in two years. Negotiating with Svechkov to convince him to leave SKA may not be easy, but the Devils did it with Mikhail Maltsev so it is not an unfamiliar process. I think Svechkov would be a great prospect to take with the Devils’ second first round pick.

Whether he makes it to 29th (OK, 28th, thanks to Arizona’s forfeited pick) is another question. I can see how a playoff team from this year would think the same of Svechkov and take him ahead of New Jersey. I can also see the appeal that a “high floor, low ceiling” prospect may have in this year’s draft class. As much as one may prefer someone with higher and brighter potential, the goal in a draft is to find future players. In a draft class was varied as this one, someone who is a safer bet than others to make it to the NHL can be really attractive. Especially for a team that may have a less-than-impressive prospect pool. Still, while I would not be as effusive as Tessler, Kournianos, and Scouch, I do think Svechkov does have a future in the NHL and can see him having a successful and fairly long career at worst. At best, he could be a real diamond I would like that to be with New Jersey, but, again, I am unsure he will be available by then.

Your Take

I get the appeal of Fyodor Svechkov and I do think he would be a fine pick with New Jersey’s second first rounder. Now I want to know what you think. What do you think of Fyodor Svechkov as a prospect? What did you learn about the player? What about Svechkov excites you and concerns you? If he does fall to the Devils’ second first round pick, then would you take him? Do you think he will? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Svechkov in the comments. Thank you for reading.