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Andrei Svechnikov is almost ready to go play hockey again.
His skating is good. He looks good. He feels good.
Leaving the ice this week at Invisalign Arena, the Carolina Hurricanes forward was beaming.
“Everything,” he said, “is great.”
Svechnikov did wear a yellow, no-contact jersey during an informal workout with many of his teammates. It’s a visible reminder of an injured right knee and of the ACL surgery he had in March that prematurely ended his season.
Svechnikov, an NHL All-Star last season, said all the rehab work the past six months has gone smoothly, without a setback.
“We had a plan and we tried to build week by week,” Svechnikov said in an N&O interview. “It was good.”
Will the yellow jersey come off when preseason training camp begins next week?
“I feel very good, so we’ll see,” Svechnikov said. “It’s kind of still not there quite. I will be ready when I will be ready. There’s no reason to rush. I’ve got one more month here.”
That is, one more month until Hurricanes’ regular-season opener – Oct. 11 against the Ottawa Senators at PNC Arena. That’s when Svechnikov really wants to be ready, wants to be in the lineup.
“When my leg is good I will start the season. So we’ll see,” he said.
Don Waddell, the Canes’ president and general manager, has joked that he has had to pull the reins in on Svechnikov at times this summer, that he needs his power forward to be fresh and healthy late in the season, not on opening night or in the first month of the season.
“He said, ‘When were you planning to play?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, hopefully I will be ready,’” Svechnikov said, smiling. “He was like, ‘No, no, just slow down.’”
A playoff spectator
The Hurricanes’ chances of winning the 2023 Stanley Cup took a big hit when Svechnikov was injured March 11 in the game against the Vegas Golden Knights at PNC Arena.
Svechnikov made an innocuous hit along the boards in the second period, saying, “It was nothing. My knee went inside a little bit. I heard a click but it didn’t hurt or anything.
“I didn’t know it was the ACL. I would never think it would be like that. I came out for the third period. I was fine. It was a little bit tight but I played. But then I did an MRI and …”
That was that. Svechnikov was out, ending a season in which he had 23 goals and 55 points in 64 games. His All-Star appearance was his first and he turned some heads in Nashville when he won the fastest skater competition.
“That was tough,” defenseman Brent Burns said of the injury. “He’s such a huge piece.”
At home in Carolina
At 23, Svechnikov will be beginning his sixth year in the NHL, having helped rejuvenate the franchise and been a part of Stanley Cup playoff teams each season. He has a long-term contract with the Canes. He owns a house in Raleigh.
“I like what I’ve done, but I also know there’s so much more to prove on the ice,” he said. “ I know I can be better than I am right now as a player. That’s my goal and every season I grow and get more experience. Hopefully I will get better and better each season.”
Go to PNC Arena on game days and many No. 37 jerseys abound in the crowd, many worn by young kids. That’s always a rush, seeing that, Svechnikov said. He said it reminds him of his younger days in Russia, when he would be the kid standing by the rink hoping to get lucky and get a stick from a player.
Svechnikov almost felt like a kid again last week, joining teammate Martin Necas in going to New York to see the U.S. Open tennis tournament. They had good seats, watching Novak Djokovic win the singles championship – his 24th career Grand Slam singles title.
“That was a great time. What an honor to see such a great athlete win a championship,” Svechnikov said.
With that, it was back to Raleigh. It’s almost time to try to win a championship of his own.