It’s a common practice at the AHL level for prospects to join teams at the end of their college careers and get a taste of the pros.
It’s less common for them to have the kind of immediate impact that Mackie Samoskevich and Ryan McAllister are having on the Checkers.
“They have a certain skill set,” said Head Coach Geordie Kinnear. “They have to play within the team game. When you play within our team game with your skillset, it adds a lot of value.”
The former - a first-round pick of Florida’s in 2021 - picked up two helpers in two regular season games and another two assists in three playoff contests, while the latter - a free-agency addition by the Panthers - racked up five points (1g, 4a) in four regular season games and has one assist in two postseason appearances.
“It’s obviously a little different than the college game,” said McAllister. “But I think the coaching staff and my teammates have done a really good job of helping me fit in and get my feet wet.”
“I think the guys are bigger and stronger,” said Samoskevich. “But the coaching staff and everyone in the room has done a great job of helping me out and helping with this transition. It’s been pretty smooth for me. I’m excited for the rest of it.”
Navigating the leap from the college level to the pro game is historically a tough task - especially joining a team that has been building a cohesive identity for an entire season already. For Samoskevich and McAllister, the key has been balancing their strong hockey IQs with sticking to the game that got them to this level in the first place.
“Obviously it’s weird learning a new system,” said Samoskevich. “But once you get the X’s and O’s - be here, be there - it gets pretty easy. You just read off the other four on the ice. It’s nothing too tough to learn - you’re just playing hockey out there. That’s when I’m playing my best.”
“At this level of hockey I think everyone adapts to systems pretty easy,” said McAllister. “It’s definitely a jump - guys are bigger, faster and stronger. But my coaches have done a great job.”
That ability to quickly learn on the fly has benefitted both skaters. Samoskevich has become a mainstay in the top half of the lineup since joining the club, while McAllister worked his way into Games 2 and 3 of Charlotte’s first-round series and made an impact - especially on the power play.
“I put Samo with Nasher and Conacher, two veteran guys who have been around a long time and have won at certain levels,” said Kinnear. “It was a good fit [in Game 3]. And McAllister, he didn’t get a ton of ice but I thought he brought some swagger to our power play when he was out there.”
The two rookies are also using this time to acclimate themselves with the off-ice aspects of the pro game, and the experience-laden room that Charlotte has cultivated certainly gives them plenty of resources.
“It’s really great,” said McAllister. “You grow up watching those guys like Cory [Conacher] and Riley Nash. It’s awesome to see them and actually hang out with them outside the rink and at the rink. Those guys are great leaders that I can look up to every day.”
They also have the added benefit of not going through this transition alone.
“I’m rooming with [McAllister],” said Samoskevich. “So it’s been a big help having him around and learning the ways around pro hockey with him. We’ve been having a ton of fun and I’m excited for the rest of it.”
The Checkers have their sights set on a deep playoff run, and if the last two weeks are any indication Samoskevich and McAllister will have a hand in it.
“It’s a great opportunity for those guys,” said Kinnear. “They can continue to grow their game and fit in and help us win hockey games.”