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Photo Credit: hcSKA/Twitter

Vasili Podkolzin is finally breaking out in the KHL

Vasili Podkolzin had no points in his first 16 games this season and many Canucks fans were concerned that his development was going to take a year off.

It’s funny how much things can change in just a few short weeks. Podkolzin got his first KHL point in a game against CSKA. Podkolzin drove the net hard and got two birds stoned at once with his first KHL goal and point. It seemed like Podkolzin was getting more playing time after a horribly tough start to the season that saw him play under two minutes in five of his first 16 KHL games.

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Podkolzin has averaged over 12 minutes in each of his last six KHL games and it seems like he is finally earning the trust of the SKA coaching staff.

Podkolzin has been playing mainly with two second round picks from the 2018 NHL entry draft in Ivan Morozov (VGK) and Kirill Marchenko (CBJ,) who both played for SKA last year as 18-year-olds. Neither of the two players were able to find the scoresheet during their KHL time in 2018-19.

This year, Marchenko and Morozov have been getting a lot more ice time and have found success with the addition of Podkolzin as the trio funnels the puck towards the net with their combination of speed and skill. Podkolzin is the biggest of the three, weighing in at roughly 190-195 pounds. Podkolzin recently got in his first KHL fight and held his own against former NHLer Shane Prince.

As of February 3, he is currently listed as the fourth line right winger on SKA but has been getting power play time with the first unit. It’s taken some time, but he’s finally getting some offensive opportunities and he’s made the best of them.

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Since his role has increased, he’s flashed some eye-popping skill in the KHL One of the things I most appreciate about his game is his ability to control the front of the net on the powerplay. It’s almost like he watched tape of power forwards from the wrong sport and learned from guys like Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman.

Podkolzin has a way of rotating his body to find open ice in a very small area. During every Russian powerplay at the World Junior tournament we saw Podkolzin positionioned right in front of the goaltender. Here’s an example of Podkolzin using his size and strength to man handle the young boys who were trying to battle with him.

This is not from the World Juniors. 

Podkolzin possessed the situational awareness to quickly determine where he needs to be and gain a positional advantage and he will not allow defenders to be able to outmuscle him out of those areas. He most recently jumped onto the SKA powerplay unit and had success doing the same thing at the KHL level.

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Podkolzin has 15 shots in his last seven games. He is getting the puck at his own blue line and using his speed to get in on the rush and fire a ton of shots towards the opposing goaltender. We have not seen Podkolzin get much time on the SKA penalty kill but it is a great sign to see him on the first unit powerplay because I think that’s where he does his best work. I wouldn’t count out the possibility of him seeing some PK time at some point with SKA however, as he was used as the lone forward for Russia’s 5-on-3 penalty kills at the World Junior Championships and looked effective.

He plays a net front presence like I’ve not seen before. Podkolzin darts in and out of the crease, he finds a spot where there is some open ice and plants his skates in the ice there. When he’s not planted he is moving behind the net to help the cycle.

The Canucks have been upgrading each part of their powerplay over the past three years. First we saw Bo Horvat jump in then Brock Boeser, followed by Elias Pettersson, and now Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller have joined the group.

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I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nils Höglander and Vasili Podkolzin be two players that will make a case to jump in with that first unit over the next few years. I like the idea of Podkolzin taking Horvat’s spot in front of the net and opening up Captain Bo to play a bigger role on the second unit.

Podkolzin is now being used in situations where his skill is being showcased a bit more. If he continues to get time on SKA’s first powerplay unit we will see the goals begin to stack up like Charles Barkley’s rebounds did in the 1986-87 NBA season.

The Podkolzin-Morozov-Markchenko line continues to control the goal share and if that continues, they should continue to see roughly 12-15 minutes a game. I would count that as a successful year of development for Podkolzin in arguably the best league outside of North America.

Podkolzin’s season got off to a bit of a worrisome start, but Canucks fans should feel much better about how he’s developing after these past few weeks. Podz is proving that he can be a contributor to his KHL team and 18-year-olds typically have to fight light dogs to see regular action at the KHL level. Podkolzin has been going out there every day during games and practices and earning it.

That’s what I call development.