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The rookie defenceman has impressed throughout his first season with the Thunder

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson /

The big man is picking up steam.

After putting up just four points in his first 21 games, Adirondack Thunder rookie defenceman Stepan Falkovsky is on roll offensively. In his last six games, he has recorded seven goals and 12 points and now has 12 goals and 21 points in 36 games this year. The Flames' 2016 seventh round pick is now ninth in team scoring and ranks eighth amongst all ECHL rookie defenceman in points.

"I think he's made some really strong progress in terms of understanding how to play the pro game," Adirondack head coach Cail MacLean told "I think that he has a long way to go - I'll add that right after - but I'm impressed with the way he's adapted offensively at this level and has learned the importance of possession play and having poise with the puck. I think that's probably where the most growth is in his game right now."

MacLean attributes his second-half surge to a better understanding of how to use his best assets to his advantage at the pro level: his offensive ability and his skating skills.

When it comes to offence, Falkovsky's ability to produce was on display during his lone Ontario Hockey League season with the Ottawa 67's, netting nine goals and 32 points in 58 games in 2015-16. Now that he has a better grasp of the defensive responsibilities required in the ECHL, he has been able to maximize his offensive ability.

"His shot is his greatest attribute and his skill with the puck - he's very skilled when he's got the puck. Not only can he shoot but he can make plays in tight areas. He's a skilled hockey player and the exciting thing is he's a very large, powerful player at the same time. That makes for a pretty good recipe."

Falkovsky's skating is his other major asset. He moves extremely well for a player who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs in at 224 pounds.

"The thing that is really exceptional with him is the use of his edges," MacLean explained. "He's a player that has good hip mobility and he can really escape by opening his hips up and using the inside edges of his skates. He's not clunky for big man. He's smooth and he's got that ability to escape.

"Then you combine that with the long reach and some good hands … he can be pretty effective at possessing the puck and finding ways to make his plays, something more effective than a simple chip off the glass."

Looking back on Falkovsky's season in Glens Falls, NY, MacLean noted how the communcation process has been key in helping the 20-year-old in acclimatizing to his new surroundings.

Hailing from Minsk, Belarus, Falkovsky is not yet fluent in English, adding to the challenge of settling into his first professional season. Having to navigate through the transition to a different league and a new country while speaking another language has, unsurprisingly, been a hurdle for the defenceman.

"It takes some extra attention in terms of trying to break through when you have someone as young as Stepan is and having that language barrier. We have to be conscious of the idea that it's natural for a young athlete to try to fight through without making too much of a point about that language whereas we're trying to make sure that it is a point," MacLean noted.

"We do want to slow it down and make sure he understands as opposed to have a young athlete who is just trying to keep everyone happy and see if he can get by with the small parts that he does understand. We want to emphasize to him 'Hey, let's go over this again. Let's sit down and talk about it a little further.'

"We want to want to make sure we're at a point of understanding because it's so important for a young guy to learn the game. He's got to know exactly what his coaches and teammates are asking for."

With Falkovsky more settled in, MacLean and the coaching staff are working with him to ensure his play away from the puck is evolving alongside his offensive game.

"His habits, his details in his defensive play in the neutral zone and the defensive zone, not only his positioning on the ice but some of the finer points of posture and stick position ... that's what we're looking at.

"Those are things that when he learns to include those elements, with his size and with his skating ability, he becomes a pretty effective defender. But he's got to keep working away to get those habits down."

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