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Photo Credit: Β© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Vasili Podkolzin has not been getting regular ice time in Russia and it sucks

The Vancouver Canucks cannot get their top prospect over to North America soon enough.

To quote Theodore Jasper Detweiler, “this whomps”.

Vasili Podkolzin is the Canucks’ top prospect. He is a Russian winger who drives the net with force, is dominant on the powerplay and controls possession at an incredibly high rate.

The problem is that Podkolzin’s skills are not being utilized by his KHL team, SKA St.Petersburg.

Podkolzin is averaging just 10:47 of ice time through six regular season games this year. He is playing on a fourth line that completely fell apart on Tuesday when Podkolzin was moved up to the third line.

His typical fourth linemates, Ivan Morozov and Kirill Marchenko, were on the ice for three goals against in the first period. After that performance, Podkolzin was moved from the third line back to the fourth line. The coach obviously didn’t like what that line was giving the team and that resulted in Podkolzin playing a season-low 8:21 in the game. Podkolzin only got two shifts in the third period totalling 72 seconds of ice time.

One of the top strengths in Podkolzin’s game is his work in front of the net on the powerplay. SKA is not using Podkolzin on either of their two powerplay units. He is also a ferocious forechecker and defender who is not being used on their penalty kill either.

The KHL is a great league for players to develop their skills. It is likely the second most skilled league in the world. It is excellent hockey but when you are getting under 10 minutes of ice time in half of your games, it makes it hard to see that development progress.

Podkolzin had a great start to the season, as he had the primary assist on SKA’s first goal of the season. He would later go on to add his first goal of the new campaign in his third game. Podkolzin has points in two of the three games where he has played over 10 minutes.

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The KHL is a league that is known for veteran presences getting ice time over young talent.

It looked as though Podkolzin earned the respect and trust to play more this season. He ended the 2019-20 season playing over 11 minutes in 11 of his last 12 games.

From watching the games, I can tell you that Podkolzin is one of the most talented players on the team when it comes to controlling and moving the puck. His puck possession numbers are through the roof, having some games where his Corsi for percentage is above 80%. He currently has a Corsi for percentage that is over 65% and does a great job of generating offence in the blink of an eye.

His effort level is the highest on the team. He is the most aggressive forechecker on the team and honestly, it’s not even close. The kid is a coach’s dream. He gives 100% on every shift and is fearless when it comes to blocking shots or getting involved physically.

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SKA is one of the strongest teams in the entire KHL so I get that Podkolzin shouldn’t be a first line player on his team. Podkolzin is far from the weakest players on his team though and that is how he is being treated. He was used as the 13th forward in his game on Sunday and eventually got less ice time in his next game.

It feels as though the coach is trying to teach him a lesson. Here’s the thing, Podkolzin looks like he is teaching a lesson on how to be a coach’s dream. He is the youngest forward on the team and that seems to be the root of the problem.

Some games he looks dominant and could have two or three goals. His finishing may be the only downside to his game right now. There have been a few times where he should probably shoot the puck instead of passing but I think the pressure from the coaching staff is making him want to be even more of a team player.

The only way that this coaching method seems to make sense to me is that they want Podkolzin to be an elite contributor at the end of the season. It also looks like Podkolzin is scared to be on the ice for too long. He is constantly the first to change on his line as he tends to keep his shifts short.

For now, something needs to change. Podkolzin was inserted to the third line on Tuesday but was ultimately moved down to play with Morozov and Marchenko after they were scored on three times without him as their right winger.

It’s painful to watch this kid lose out on crucial development time. I’m sure he is working his tail off in practice and getting better every week, but it just feels like he could be doing more in the games.

I mean, Nikita Tryamkin is averaging over 22 minutes a game this season, there is certainly room for Podkolzin to be on the ice more.

Podkolzin’s KHL contract is up at the end of the season. He could join the Canucks sometime in April or late March if SKA is eliminated from the playoffs early. Until then let’s just hope his ice time can rise and with that, his production follows.

We will continue to follow Podkolzin’s season and it progresses. SKA is in action this Thursday and Sunday. The Canucks other top prospect, Nils HΓΆglander, begins his SHL season on Saturday.