Will Hurricanes Miss Andrei Svechnikov’s Physicality During Playoffs?

Jan 14, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Andrei Svechnikov (37) tries to carry the puck past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman (52) during the third period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Andrei Svechnikov (37) tries to carry the puck past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman (52) during the third period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /
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Much has been said about the physical nature of Andrei Svechnikov’s game. His heaviness and size. Him moving people around and either creating or eliminating space and time as the need arises. After his injury on March 11th against the Vegas Golden Knights, the discussion’s focus became about the absence of the grittiest elements of Svechnikov’s game. His offensive production was going to be missed but not irreplaceable. Would his toughness be a unfillable void? Who amongst the Hurricanes was going to fill this void or even attempt it? And when the time comes, would the lack of Andrei Svechnikov’s physicality be an issue during the playoffs? We all know the games get more dense the further along teams go. Checks just a little bit harder, boards crashed ever so slightly faster.

Feb 21, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Andrei Svechnikov (37) and St. Louis Blues defenseman Nick Leddy (4) chase after the puck during the first period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Andrei Svechnikov (37) and St. Louis Blues defenseman Nick Leddy (4) chase after the puck during the first period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

I had assumed Andrei Svechnikov was never really part of Carolina’s sandpaper game plan to begin with. Or at least not a main part of their game. Of course every team needs someone to bring physical play to the ice. Fighting not withstanding, getting opponents off the puck, gritting the puck off the boards, and overall making sure things get taken care of is a part of hockey. That was left for Jalen Chatfield, and Jordan Martinook not neccessarly Svechnikov.

So being the curious person I am, during the pregame coverage of Game 1 against the New York Islanders, I started digging. Understanding there is not a measurable state for “physicality”, “heaviness” or anything else of that nature I looked at the good old fashion “HIT” column to get a measure. First I looked at the stats on Andrei Svechnikov, and those of the Hurricanes as a team, then went looking for who might be a replacement. Here is what I found.

When he went down, Andrei Svechnikov was on pace to have a career year in hits. According to hockey-reference.com, in 62 games, Svechnikov had 140 HITS in 62 games. His career high of 189 came last season. If my math is correct, the 140 over 62 games this season equates to 2.25 a night, which corresponds to what many said about his physicality. He was moving people around and butting heads.

But what about the Hurricanes? Was the loss of Andrei Svechnikov going to suddenly turn them into delicate roses smashed at the very thought of the boards? Would physicality become a bygone aspect of their game? Would the miss those extra shoves, even if questionable, that helped create offensive time and space?

To measure this, I took stats from the 18 games after Andre Svechnikov was hurt, and compared them to the 18 games before he was hurt. According to NHL.com, the Carolina Hurricanes were being out-hit 277 to 375 by opposing teams before the injury to Svechnikov. Of the 18 games before Svechnikov was hurt, the Hurricanes had more hits 5 times. After, that number dropped to just 1 with 2 ties. The totals fell to 256 and 367 after Andrei Svechnikov was not on the ice for the Hurricanes.

So who was going to step into the physicality void left by Andrei Svechnikov? The answer is no one, but Jesperi Kotkaniemi is certainly a solid substitute with a little help from his friends. Prior to this year, where he has 105 HITS, the highest Kotkaniemi had ever registered was 84 back in 2021-2022. Plus, he is not averse to throwing hands when the need arises.

Still  Kotkaniemi cannot and should not be just another warhorse.

My favorite Hurricane Jalen Chatfield is MORE than capable of laying the shoulder to whomever might need it. For the year he’s played in 78 games, and registered 78 hits. I am from Tennessee but I can leave my socks on and know that is a pop and night. Plus there is Jesper Fast, who is never afraid to throw some weight. He is in the triple digits of hits for the second time in his 30’s and has 7 seasons over 100.

So it does not have to be JUST Jesperi Kotkaniemi to step into Andre Svechnikov’s shoes.

For the most part the rest of the season was mostly uneventful (The Florida Panthers being the exception) and teams fighting for their playoff lives against the Carolina Hurricanes, would the lack of Andre Svechnikov’s physical presence be a problem in the playoffs when the rulebooks tend to get thinner and whistles stay in the pockets of referees?

On that we will all have to wait and see, but, in just one game the Carolina Hurricanes were only out-hit 39 to 44 by the New York Islanders. Given neither team is too rough and tumble, that is not bad. New York, like Carolina, is built more for speed, and scoring with shut down capabilities after they have a lead. After New York, it is anyone’s guess who the Hurricanes will face, but leaving the physicality in the capable hands of Jesperi Kotkaniemi should not be concerning .And on the rare occasion Kotkaniemi cannot, there is always either Jesper Fast or Jalen Chatfield to drop a hammer and move some bodies.

The Carolina Hurricanes definitely miss Andre Svechnikov’s goal scoring, leadership, and maybe most of all his physical play. But the Hurricanes have physicality where you might expect it inJesperi Kotkaniemi and where you might not from Jesper Fast and Martin Necas. While not as “heavy” as Svechnikov, Kotkaniemi brings a fearlessness that the Carolina Hurricanes can certainly count on to get their point across. He is certainly the go to guy to throw hands when needed, but never count out Jesper Fast and Jalen Chatfield if their number is called.