No player on the Checkers last year had more hype coming into the season then Sergey Tolchinsky. The 5’8 winger from Russia signed with the Hurricanes organization in August of 2013, after going undrafted because other teams were not sure if his lack of height would translate to the professional level. Ever since signing, Tolchinsky has teased Hurricanes fans with multiple highlight plays in junior that have showed his potential as maybe an offensive threat in the NHL. In 2014-2015, he played his final season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, posting a personal career high for points in a season with 95. He would also represent Russia in the 2015 World Junior Championships and win a silver medal playing for his country.
Tolchinsky would play his first game with the Checkers in the right wing slot on the third line. He jumped out of the gate quickly and put up 5 points in the first four games of the season, but unfortunately that hot start would cool off fast and he would only tally 6 more points for the rest of 2015. He was having trouble adjusting from the junior-styled game where he was able to affect the game more by holding the puck and creating chances for his teammates by himself because he was more skilled than most of his opponents
The pro style game even in the AHL can be a big step up for guys coming in from junior because it is a team-oriented game with lots of passing and dumping the puck instead of trying to force a pass or a shot through a defense. Forcing the issue at the AHL and NHL levels can lead to a turnover and an odd man rush going the other way which creates the need for adjusting the risk/reward balance for attacking/creating versus making safe/simple plays sometimes and living to fight another day.
Another reason for his first half of the year struggles could be the line changing he endured. Tolchinsky never consistently played on the same line during the season and was constantly being switched from one line to the other, making it more difficult to develop chemistry with his new teammates.
Tolchinsky did not let his early struggles define his first year as a Checker. He flipped the script on how he was playing after the new year and would become one of the team’s few bright spots during their second half of the year slump. He started getting rid of the puck noticeably quicker than he was just a couple of months before. It led to a much higher point total for the second half of the season, notching 25 points compared to 11 points in the first half. He would also receive his first NHL call-up on March 30 and he would make his NHL debut on March 31 against the New York Rangers, registering his first NHL assist.
The 36 points that Tolchinsky tallied during the season is the third highest point total for a rookie in Checkers’ franchise history. Watch for Tolchinsky to come into the 2016-2017 season looking and playing much more comfortably than he was at the beginning of last year. A 50-to-60 point season could be possible, and he could be the team’s leading scorer.