Sergey Tolchinsky and Valentin Zykov, forwards and fellow Russians, have been friends since they were 10 and once were teammates for six years.
Both 21, they’re now in the Carolina Hurricanes’ training camp, trying to make an impression, hoping to win a roster spot with the Canes.
“I think I improved myself from September of last year to this year,” Tolchinsky said. “I think I have a chance to make the team and I’ll try and take it.”
Tolchinsky was undrafted in the NHL, a big disappointment for the Moscow native, but came to the Canes’ prospect camp in 2013 and earned an entry-level contract. Zykov, from Saint Petersburg, was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings, 37th overall, in 2013.
When the Canes dealt forward Kris Versteeg to the Kings in February at the NHL trade deadline, they got Zykov in return.
“I would say everyone is kind of surprised by trades,” Zykov said. “Trades are a part of hockey, so you have to be ready for that.”
Zykov spent most of last season, his first in professional hockey, with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League. He was slowed by a bursa sac injury, but after the trade was able to get in two games with the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL team.
Tolchinsky played 72 games for the Checkers last season, his first as a pro, but also made his NHL debut and got in two games for the Canes in late March and early April.
Zykov said there was a time, when both were about 10 or 11, when he and Tolchinsky were roughly the same height. To which Tolchinsky, with a smile, said, “Same size? I don’t know about that. I was always small. Everyone was huge compared to me.”
Zykov is now. He’s 6 feet 1 and 224 pounds, and Tolchinsky 5-8 and 170.
Tolchinsky’s game is all about speed and elusiveness, sniping and scoring. “He’s always been a difference-maker,” Zykov said.
With Zykov, it’s more about power. “Bring pucks to the net and create scoring chances. Go into the hard areas, win the battles,” he said.
The two skated on the same line in the recent Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament, helping the Canes sweep through the tournament undefeated and win the championship.
“Our team had a good system and good chemistry,” Tolchinsky said. “It was like an early preseason, getting four games in. It gave me confidence as well.”
Tolchinsky decided Sunday’s Red-White scrimmage with a penalty shot and has gotten the attention of coaches and management with his hustle, both at Traverse City and in camp.
“He came into camp in very good shape and he’s competed really hard,” Canes assistant coach Steve Smith said.
Tolchinsky played with center Jordan Staal and winger Joakim Nordstrom on Monday in the Canes’ first preseason game, against the Washington Capitals. Zykov also got in his first preseason game as the Canes won 2-1 in overtime on Justin Faulk’s power-play goal.
On a team starved for goals the past few season, Tolchinsky has a chance at making the roster. Odds are, both Tolchinsky and Zykov may open the season with the Checkers.
But that’s what training camp is for – a proving ground, except one on ice.
“Everyone goes hard, 100 percent and even more,” Zykov said.
NOTE: The Canes on Wednesday returned forwards Nicolas Roy (Chicoutimi, QMJHL) and Janne Kuokkanen (London, OHL) to their junior clubs, trimming the training camp roster to 51.