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

Why Vasili Podkolzin is being benched in Russia

The Vancouver Canucks’ top prospect was off to a hot start over in Russia’s top hockey league but is now being benched.

Vasili Podkolzin has not been in the lineup for the past two SKA regular season KHL games. The two other young players on SKA, Kirill Marchenko and Ivan Morozov have still been in the lineup for SKA. Marchenko has been given the chance to play on the first line while Morozov has locked down the fourth line centre spot all season.

Podkolzin began the season red hot. He set up SKA’s first goal of the season and ended up adding a goal in his third game. It looked like his scoring woes from last year may have disappeared.

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In the 15 games that followed, Podkolzin only had a point in one other game, when he had two assists in a 6-4 win on September 30th.

You can see the jump in ice time between September 23rd and October 4th that occurred due to the COVID-19 outbreak that crippled the SKA organization. After the game on October 4th, it looked like Podkolzin was falling into a standard fourth line role with SKA.

That changed after he had what I believe was his worst game of the season in a 3-1 loss to rival CSKA.

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Podkolzin now has now been out of the lineup for the past two SKA games.

He did have an article come out where he spoke about some former and current coaches and what it was like being compared to Connor McDavid. We don’t get to hear a lot from Podkolzin but this was a great insightful look into how he looks at hockey.

Here’s what Podkolzin said about the new role with SKA this season.

SKA fans already noticed it; I’m playing much more now. To some extent, I feel like my hands were untied. I started playing simpler and with more confidence. So I had more scoring chances and started scoring points. Twenty minutes against Amur is my record so far in the KHL regular season, and that’s great. It’s great that my coaches are giving me more chances. And the more you play, the more you want to play. I’m happy to play both penalty-killing and powerplay stints. This means that the coaches trust to play me in the games’ critical moments.

It was a good start for Podkolzin as he was putting up points while also playing extremely well in the defensive zone. He was getting used in a first line role as SKA went through their COVID outbreak and looked to be getting plenty of scoring chances.

Podkolzin was not on the ice for a goal against in the first eight games of the season. His line controlled puck possession at a high degree, some games that I tracked had Podkolzin with a CF% over 80%. His effort was being rewarded in the defensive zone and his goalie was making timely saves to keep the pucks out of the net with Podkolzin on the ice.

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In the next 10 games, it was a very different story. Through those next 10 games, Podkolzin was on the ice for eight goals against and had a GA/60 of 3.34.

There’s still scoring chances coming from Podkolzin every game and he is excellent on the forecheck and in his defensive zone. There is a U20 tournament in Finland in two weeks. He should be over there to compete with Russia’s U20 team in preparation for the World Junior Tournament in December.

His coach Valery Bragin is back with SKA on the bench after taking a sickness leave for COVID-19 related symptoms. Bragin said that their Podkolzin-less game on Thursday was one of the worst performances of the season.

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Podkolzin should get back into the lineup soon but don’t expect him to get any special teams time in the near future. He will need to continue to work to get better opportunities and honestly, he needs to score some goals soon. It was a tough stretch of games before being sat out of the lineup. He’s been held pointless in the past seven games and has only been on the ice for two goals for.

Podkolzin will likely get some confidence from playing in some U20 games. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than 95% of the competition that he will be facing. He should captain Russia’s U20 team at the World Junior Championships and with a U20 tournament in Finland at the beginning of November, he should find his scoring touch against players his age.

For the record, Podkolzin’s season ends on the 27th of February and he will then compete in the playoffs until his contract expires with SKA.