He looked up to NHL players like Pavel Bure and Pavel Datsyuk, and he wasn’t afraid to circle the globe and work on his craft in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, even though he was a first-round pick in the 2012 KHL Draft.
“It was a family decision,” Tolchinsky said. “Since I was little, I wanted to play in the NHL. And my agent and my family said the closest way to the NHL, is to get used to the North American style and the CHL is the best option.”
“It wasn’t that much of a hard decision,” he continued. “I think we knew right away we’d go to the place that could get me to the NHL best.”
That time in the OHL prepared Tolchinsky for the NHL’s smaller ice surface. It’s something that the speedy Russian has put on display at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament this week.
“When I’m skating fast and using my speed, that’s the best game for me,” Tolchinsky said. “When I’m using my hands and always trying to be near the puck and get the puck with speed. That’s my game.”
In the first period he danced around Dallas defenseman Patrick Sanvido and wired a wrist shot into the upper corner.
“That Russian kid, he’s a good player,” Stars prospect coach Derek Laxdal said. “You could see what he did on the first goal. That’s a dangerous talent they have.”
Then, in the second period he set up Brett Pesce for an easy goal, pulling the Hurricanes within one. And then, after Carolina had forced overtime, Tolchinsky scored the game-winner when he was left with too much time and space in front of Dallas goalie Brent Moran.
In fact, Tolchinsky is well suited for three-on-three overtime, which the NHL has adopted in time for the 2015-16 season.
With less players on the ice the speedster is more of a weapon and his size — which could be an issue at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds — doesn’t matter when the opposition can’t catch him.
“It just happens so quickly (in overtime),” Tolchinsky said. “There’s a lot of room and you do whatever you want there.”
And he’s hoping to make that kind of impact with the Hurricanes and reward the only franchise that took a chance on him.
He went undrafted at the 2013 NHL Draft and cried once the final name was called in New Jersey. But, he was soon invited to the Hurricanes’ prospect camp where he earned a three-year, entry-level contract.
Carolina general manager Ron Francis instantly looked like a very smart man for signing the Russian.
Tolchinsky posted 91- and 95-point seasons in his final two years of junior hockey. He continued to develop as a playmaker and he averaged more than an assist per game in his final season with Sault St. Marie.
Then at Carolina’s rookie camp in July, he was one of the best players on the ice, and made the highlight reel with a couple dazzling goals in a scrimmage.
So, how does that ultimately translate to professional hockey?
Tolchinsky will find out over the next couple weeks, as Carolina will be looking for an offensive spark.
The Hurricanes had the NHL’s fourth-worst offense last season. And off-season moves didn’t do much to bolster the Hurricanes offensive depth. In fact, the biggest move was buying out Alexander Semin, a fellow Russian who Tolchinksy had befriended last season at training camp.
But, Tolchinsky isn’t worried about anyone else. Instead, he’s focused on becoming NHL-ready as soon as possible.
“The first goal is, obviously, I want to make the team,” Tolchinksy said. “Then during the season I just want to play my game.”
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