Had you asked me that question in June, I would have given Sergey Tolchinsky a 15% chance of making the Hurricanes NHL roster out of training camp. One positive is that the Canes are light at forward and will have a slot or even 2 that is there to be won in September and early October. The negatives are simply the general challenge of jumping straight from juniors to the NHL (for anyone) and also the need to Tolchinsky to adapt a little bit.
The Canes have a couple recent examples of players trying to make this jump. In 2013-14, Brock McGinn blew the doors off the OHL collecting 43 goals and 42 assists on a good Guelph team in only 58 games. He looked pretty good in prospect camp in July and entered the 2014 Hurricanes training camp with a head of steam and forward openings to be won. It was evident fairly early in camp that he was not yet able to translate his game to the NHL level, and he was sent packing for a full season in Charlotte.
The previous summer, Victor Rask came out of his 2012-13 season in juniors as a point per game player and with roster spots to be won in the Hurricanes 2013 training camp. He already had decent NHL size and had a buzz around him entering training camp. He too could not make the big jump and required a full season in the AHL to round out his game against the next level of competition before winning a spot in the NHL the next summer.
Even for players who have clearly mastered the Canadian juniors level of hockey, the jump from there to NHL is a huge one usually only made by elite prospects. More common is at least a half season adjustment phase at the AHL level followed by a strong 2nd half of the season that tees up a late season call-up or readiness to compete for a roster spot the following summer.
So I guess the practical side of me is prone to dampen the Tolchinsky-optimist hopes. But history and percentages aside, I think it is fair to say that whatever odds Sergey Tolchinsky was facing in June, he has pushed them a bit more in his favor. He was good in rookie camp and clearly one of the best players when competing against his own age group. That has also held true in the Traverse City tourney where he is racking up points in games that are a bit closer to real hockey, albeit still against mostly 18-20 year olds many of whom will never make it to the NHL. But I think it is fair to say that in the 2 chances to improve his standing heading into the NHL training camp, he has done so. And that is all you can ask up until this point.
So what does he need to do in training camp to have a shot at making the opening night NHL roster? I think 3 things:
1) He needs to be at least adequate defensively. The goal is not for him to make the Canes because he has morphed into an elite checking line forward. But you cannot be too much below average defensively and still expect to make the NHL roster.
2) He needs to show that he can recalibrate his game a bit for the NHL pace, size and skill level. He likes to play with the puck on his stick. He is not shy about dangling a bit and wandering around the offensive zone trying to create offense. That skill set can translate to the NHL level, but it often takes a bit of time to figure out when you need to make a quick move to make some kind of passing or shooting lane and then take it even if it is not perfect. At the NHL, it is not nearly so early to just keep the puck until you create the chance you want. Especially when this is accomplished by cutting back into traffic, it is less likely to yield space and has a greater potential to run right into a big hit.
3) Sort of related to #2, he needs to generate offense. At the point when his offense is not ready yet, he pretty quickly gets slated for Charlotte to start working on adjustments at the next level up from where he was last season.
So what do I put his chances at making the NHL at now given his strong summer so far? I still say no more than 25%.
And what will I be looking for early in training camp to suggest that maybe I am wrong? The biggest thing is watching to see if he can quickly adapt to the pace, skill and size of the NHL and still work some of his magic. In that regard, I think it will be about still being able to make moves but equally importantly to get the decision-making right in a faster game and realize when he needs to make a quick move and then immediately a play (shot or pass) coming out of it instead of dangling endlessly until he finds something he really likes.
While I think the odds are against Sergey Tolchinsky sticking with the big club to start the season, I still think he is one to watch. His skill level, hands and vision/creativity really are elite. That gives him a chance to surprise in training camp.
I hope to attend a decent amount of the early training camp practices once they start up at the end of this week and offer at least the short version of my thoughts coming out of those practices. Much of the initial feedback will run through the Canes and Coffee Twitter account (@CanesandCoffee), so follow along there if interested.