As the Vancouver Canucks shut down for awhile, top prospect Vasily Podoklzin began his Western Conference finals of the KHL playoffs overseas in Russia.
It’s the biggest rivalry in the KHL as CSKA hosts SKA. Over the past five KHL playoffs, one of SKA or CSKA has come out of the Western Conference finals to compete for the KHL championship. These teams don’t like each other in a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees way. That’s how heated this rivalry is.
Podkolzin has looked sharp so far in this year’s KHL playoffs. Coming into Friday’s game, Podkolzin had three goals and three assists through 10 games and those six points have him tied for third on SKA for playoff scoring. All the while not getting top-six minutes and being sparsely used on SKA’s power play.
On Friday’s series opener, Podkolzin was playing left wing on the third line alongside fellow youngster Ivan Morozov and SKA captain Yevgeni Ketov. It’s nothing new to see Podkolzin play away from his natural right wing side, but it sure was a bold move to see him there for the opening game of such a crucial series.
Early in the match, Podkolzin was once again being used as a fourth-line player. He only had five shifts in the first period that amounted to 3:43 of ice time. There wasn’t much to work off of, as CSKA brought pressure and SKA struggled to get the puck out of their zone. When down or trailing, SKA has moved Podkolzin up the lineup throughout the playoffs.
If the offence isn’t clicking for SKA, their head coach Valeri Bragin’s first move has been to get Podkolzin more involved in the action. It’s too bad that it takes the team playing poorly to see Podkolzin play in a top-six role but this is nothing new to those who have been following my coverage of Podkolzin this season.
As the game went on, it was a rollercoaster for Podkolzin’s ice time. His 3:43 in the first period didn’t look great but Bragin chose to play Podkolzin even less in the second period as he only received four shifts in which he skated for a total of 3:07. SKA looked most effective at creating offensive chances during Podkolzin’s very limited time. He had a shot that barely missed the net during a rush into the offensive zone:
Vasily Podkolzin just missed the net on a long wrist shot after making a cut to the slot on an offensive rush. pic.twitter.com/aWD1cB0LWi
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) April 2, 2021
The game was a pretty big stinker for SKA, they weren’t able to amount much continual pressure in the offensive zone.
Podkolzin however, was able to keep possession in the offensive zone as he had 4:12 of his total 12:12 spent with possession in the offensive zone, otherwise known as the time on attack stat (TOA). That meant that he spent 34.4% of his ice time with his team having possession of the puck in the offensive zone. That 34.4% was the highest among all forwards on both teams.
In a game where the team couldn’t seem to generate much offence, Podkolzin was a shining star in terms of possession numbers once again. He was also not on the ice for any of the three CSKA goals against. One of only four forwards who played over five minutes and was not on the ice for a goal against.
Podkolzin’s defence is very rarely questioned and he continues to show why during these KHL playoffs. He was once again ferocious on the forecheck and physical when he needed to be while showing a very active stick in board battles. If you are a video scout evaluating Podkolzin’s NHL readiness, the first thing that should be on that report is his ability to forecheck and battle on the boards. He’s a big, strong player who is ready to take on NHL competition in those tough board battles.
SKA is going to have to come with a different look in game two of the series on Sunday morning. Podkolzin’s periods that have his ice time in the three-minute range need to be done with. Bragin has been able to prove his point about young players and players who will leave SKA not getting the deserved ice time. He’s done it to Podkolzin all season long.
This is crunch time, it’s the Western Conference KHL finals and SKA needs to ice their best lineup. That best lineup is one that features Podkolzin playing top-six minutes even if he isn’t on a top-six line. We saw some shake-ups late in Friday’s game and should expect to see more for Sunday.
We will continue to update you on Vasily Podkolzin through the KHL playoffs and will be bringing more analysis from his games.