Sergei Tolchinsky is one of the series of ’95-born Russian players who crossed the pond last summer to have a better chance of being drafted into the NHL. Some of them didn’t have luck, like Vladimir Ionin, but others managed to win a spot on a team without standing out too much (think about players like Vladimir Bryukvin or Sam Babintsev), while others became impact players. Sergei Tolchinsky belongs to this latter category, with other players like Valentin Zykov and Nikita Zadorov.
Just like most European players who decide to cross the pond, Tolchinsky moved to Canada to pursue his dream.
“My dream is to play in the NHL and the road through the CHL brings me there. Moreover I like the North American style”, Tolchinsky said in Russian while in Canada preparing for the NHL Combine.
Of course, just like any junior player from another country, Tolchinsky needed some adaptation time to get acquainted to the new environment.
“I missed Russia a lot. The first two months were the hardest. I also lived here alone, but sometimes my parents came and visited me.” Moreover, Tolchinsky also had to get used to life in a small town, as he is from Moscow, a city with a population of more than 11 million, as opposed to Sault Ste. Marie’s less than 80,000. “It’s quieter, there is no traffic, maybe at first even a little bit boring, but on the other hand, you can focus more on hockey.”
But European players usually don’t need to just adapt off the ice as the game itself is usually much different from the one they learned at home.
“It was my first year [in Canada], everything was great and I ended up on a very good team. In our town there are all conditions to play effectively. Of course, hockey is different [here]. The rink is smaller, the game is much faster, you have less time to think and you can’t really stop your feet, otherwise you’ll be in trouble. But I love it.”
Before moving to the OHL, Tolchinsky was part of the Kharlamov Cup-winning CSKA Krasnaya Armiya team in the MHL. He scored 19 goals and 34 points in 51 regular season games, adding four points in 15 playoff clashes.
The first thing Tolchinsky noticed when playing his first games in Canada was the much bigger attendance at OHL games.
“I wasn’t used to it at first, but it was pleasant to play in such an atmosphere. It’s much lighter for your feet to move when you hear the loud fans. Moreover, in our town hockey is the first option for entertainment and the arena is always full.”
The 5’9”, 160-pound forward also compared the MHL and OHL hockey.
“Hockey is much different in these leagues. The OHL is fast-paced hockey, offensive game, there are more hits and no one is going to escape physical play. I would say that there is even related to the psychological part of the game, you need to do something to intimidate your opponents. In the MHL it’s quite the opposite. The game is more technique-based, you’ve got relatively a lot of time to think and analyze the situations, there is less physical play. But both the OHL and MHL have their specifics, they are both very good leagues.”
Tolchinsky wasn’t the only European player on the Greyhounds' roster. Sweden-born Michael Schumacher is in his second year in the OHL. Tolchinsky confirmed to have good ties with Schumaker, a frequent linemate, just like he has with all the players on the team as he named the Greyhounds a team “with a very friendly climate”. His teammates were very interested in learning about Russia.
“They asked me a lot about the nature over there, the culture, the people. Of course about hockey. But somehow, the majority of questions went down to vodka”, Tolchinsky added with a smile.
The Moscow-born forward also played with one of the top defensive prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft, Darnell Nurse, who is the fourth-ranked North American player for the NHL Draft according to Central Scouting. Tolchinsky was impressed by his teammate.
“[Darnell] is a great player and a very good guy. He’s a very intelligent player, he reads the game very well, and at the same time he can play very physically. I was always impressed by how hard he trains. He really works hard.”
Tolchinsky, who claims to have mostly improved his defensive game as it’s required to play major junior hockey, feels “no pressure at all” for the upcoming draft. Just like many Russian players, the 18-year-old winger grew up following the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL, who are probably the most popular NHL team in Russia due to the success of the famous “Russian Five”. Thus, it’s not a surprise that, once asked about his favorite NHL player, Tolchinsky firmly replied “Pavel Datsyuk”.
As he is still a foreigner in Canada and the USA, Tolchinsky doesn’t have a definite preference regarding which team he'd like to play for.
“I don’t think it is important to be drafted by a particular team, I just hope to be drafted by someone. Then you just have to work and seize your opportunities.”
Considering the success Tolchinsky had during his first OHL season (26 goals and 51 points in 62 regular season games, plus four points in six playoff games), there is little doubt that he’ll hear his name called during the upcoming NHL Draft.
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso via Twitter at @AlexSerenRosso