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

20 reasons to be excited for 20-year-old Vasily Podkolzin

As of today, the Vancouver Canucks’ top prospect is no longer a teenager.

Vasily Podkolzin turned 20 years old and is set to come to Vancouver this fall to try his hand at the NHL.

Since it’s Podkolzin’s 20th birthday, let’s get to know him a bit better and check out 20 reasons to be excited about him making his Canucks debut this fall.

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1. He’s 20 years old but plays like a veteran

Podkolzin has accomplished a lot in his pre-NHL career and the most impressive thing about it is that he did it all as a teenager. He was one of the most impressive teenagers that we have ever seen in the KHL.

He never looked like a teenager in his time with SKA and even with a coach that didn’t fully utilize his skills, he found a way to be an impact player on a nightly basis. When SKA had a COVID-19 outbreak, Podkolzin was relied upon to be the leader of his team as many of the older veterans were out with COVID symptoms.

When he was asked to step up, he did. Podkolzin averaged 17:28 in the five KHL games where his team lost players due to COVID and was the best player on the ice for SKA.

2. He’s a natural-born leader

Throughout his career, he has been a leader on and off the ice. He’s been captain of Russia’s U18 team, captained Russia at the 2021 World Junior Championships, and was an assistant captain as an 18-year-old at the WJC in 2020.

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He leads on the ice with his effort level and clutch scoring ability while setting an amazing example off the ice as a person who is committed to winning and doing everything away from the rink to make that happen.

3. He got married at 19 years old!

Long story short, Podkolzin got married earlier this month.

“Briefly, I got married,” said Podkolzin in an Instagram post on June ninth. “I am so nervous, but everything is fine. I have parents, friends, my beautiful wife. The main part is ahead, everything is just beginning!”

It’s likely safe to say we won’t have to worry about Podkolzin being at the bars until 4 AM on weeknights.

4. He’s clutch

By now, you’ve probably heard about what Podkolzin did during this most recent KHL playoffs.

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In case you didn’t, here’s his stat line.

While averaging 14:02 of ice time, he put up 11 points in 16 games for SKA.

His goals were at huge moments. The overtime winners, game-tying strikes, and goals when his team was behind in the series against CSKA, his game went to another level and he was deadly.

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5. His wife has a dog

We all love dogs.

Some of us hate little dogs but in the Podkolzin household, small dogs are all the rage.

6. He’s a penalty killer

One spot where Podkolzin has always excelled is in his own zone.

His reckless aggressiveness creates havoc for the opposition and that is on full display when Podkolzin is on the ice shorthanded.

He’s excellent at covering multiple zones and passing lanes while on the penalty kill and is able to create offence when his team forces a turnover.

One thing that will never be questioned is his motor and it shouldn’t take long until we see Podkolzin as the Canucks’ top penalty-killing winger.

7. He blocks SO MANY shots

Whether he’s killing penalties or just in his own zone at even-strength, Podkolzin is never shy to throw his body in harm’s way to keep the puck from getting to the net.

There were countless times this past season where he blocked a shot and limped off the ice just to be back on the next shift before going right back to the well and blocking more shots.

We will talk about his toughness later but one thing is for sure, he is fearless when it comes to shot-blocking.

8. He’s a playmaker and will produce points at the NHL level

There are questions about if Podkolzin will struggle offensively in the NHL due to his lacklustre point totals from the KHL. On top of that, he wasn’t an elite scoring player in the three years of WJC that he competed in.

The most NHL-ready part of Podkolzin’s offensive game is his passing ability. This past season, he was stuck on a fourth-line where the goal was to dump the puck in and not be pinned in his own zone. When Podkolzin was playing with higher-end KHL players, his offensive numbers went up. He spent some time with two recent NHL draft picks, Kirill Marchenko and Ivan Morozov.

When those three players were together, Podkolzin was a set-up machine. He was consistently setting up both players for a ton of scoring opportunities.

Once he gets over to the NHL and is playing with NHL-caliber linemates, his playmaking will begin to result in goals instead of scoring chances.

This past season we saw Nils Höglander’s offensive numbers improve due to playing with better players and I expect the exact same thing for Podkolzin.

9. He can contribute to the power play

Though his coach rarely used him on the power play, Podkolzin is a very effective net-front presence with the man-advantage.

In my first few months of watching him, it was the first thing that popped off the screen. He does an excellent job of being a pest in front of the net. On top of that, he does an excellent job of retrieving loose pucks in the corners.

The comparison I make to him on the power play is Ryan Kesler. Kesler was a good finisher in tight who was excellent at retrieving pucks. The biggest thing about Podkolzin’s power play game is something that Kesler was also excellent at: being an extra passing option, instead of just a guy screening the goalie.

Podkolzin can make plays in tight with his quick decision making and it will immediately help the Canucks’ second power play unit if he is given time there.

10. He’s obsessed with hockey

This one seems pretty obvious but it needs to be noted.

You can’t keep Podkolzin away from the rink. In the past three seasons, he has played 234 games in three different leagues and multiple international tournaments.

11. His age group in Russia loves to play with him

He’s been a huge piece of Russia’s junior teams for a few years and his teammates have spoken highly about his leadership qualities and commitment to winning.

He played with fellow Canucks prospect Dmitri Zlodeyev at this past year’s prep for the WJC.

“He is ready to play in the NHL,” said Zlodeyev. “His character will allow him to break into the team. He’s a leader who never gives up, helps his comrades, and believes in victory to the end.”

12. He’s got swag

The young man might not have the best style but he’s rocking it with confidence.

13. He’s been working on his English

Over the past two years since being drafted, Podkolzin has committed to improving his English for his move over to North America. He has worked with a tutor for the past two years and is now capable of conducting an English interview.

He appeared on the Babes of Glory show to talk about his love for cars, specifically Bugatti’s.

14. His effort level will make him a fan favourite from day one

We see it time and time again, each team in the NHL playoffs has a number of players who look like their motors are running hot 100% of the time and that is exactly what we will see with Podkolzin.

Currently, his best asset for the NHL will be his forechecking and aggressiveness. He’s all over the puck like a dog on a dropped piece of meat from the kitchen counter.

His work rate at training camp will surprise a lot of people who think he should start on the fourth line and work his way up.

15. He’s got a wholesome social media feed

Though he’s not overly active on social media, he’s active when it comes to the causes that he believes in.

He is a big supporter of front-line workers, the armed forces, children’s hospitals and had a big hand in a campaign to deliver food to those in need during the pandemic.

He also has some fun from time to time:

16. He’s a coach’s dream

Ever since a young age, Podkolzin has spoken about wanting to be a coach when his playing career is over.

Even with the brutal treatment that he got from the coaching staff at SKA as they hoped to get him to sign in the KHL and stay in Russia, he had nothing but good things to say about his coach and that’s a tough thing to do for a star at such a young age.

He just seems to understand what it takes to be a solid pro and he’s wise beyond his years.

Former Canuck and Russian U20 coach Igor Larionov has praised Podkolzin throughout his career and chose him as the captain of the WJC team at this past tournament.

Travis Green is going to love this kid right from day one.

17. He is a big and strong man

Though he just graduated from his teens, Podkolzin is no boy, he is a man.

Though some sites have him at 6’4”, I’m sorry to report that he is probably 6’1” or maybe 6’2” on a good day.

He’s a thick player who has put on a lot of muscle since being drafted in 2019. The latest I have heard about Podkolzin is that he is weighing in at over 205 pounds and will be more than ready for the physicality that comes with playing in the NHL.

18. He’s got bite to his game

Not only is he tough, but he’s also angered when the opposition disrespects his teammates. He is never shy to get into a shoving match between the whistles and is willing to drop the gloves if the situation presents itself.

He has massive hands that look like bear paws and he will use them when he needs to.

The added physicality that he will bring to the Canucks’ top-six is much needed for this team that lacks toughness.

19. He’s a pro

Making the jump from Junior to the AHL is tough, and making the jump from the AHL to the NHL is even harder.

Podkolzin has played in the second-best league in the world in each of the past three seasons. He understands the day-to-day grind that comes with being a professional hockey player.

The KHL is the closest comparison that you can find in terms of the level of media coverage and views that the NHL receives.

He’s been a star in the KHL due to his young age and production at that level and the bright lights of the NHL will not shock him at all.

He is so damn ready.

20. The wait is finally over

We all knew that there would be a bit of a waiting period when Podkolzin was drafted in 2019. He needed to go play two more seasons in the KHL and though it was a bumpy ride, he now comes to the Canucks with the goal of being an impact player on day one.

Everything in his life has built up to this moment and he will lead the next wave of young talent that comes into the Canucks and helps this team get closer to competing for a Stanley Cup.

The General is coming to Vancouver and his game will only improve once the Canucks get back to the playoffs. He’s the perfect depth addition to a team that needs more players who can contribute on both ends of the ice and drive possession into the offensive end of the ice. Podkolzin had incredible analytics throughout this past season in the KHL and improved every line that he was on.

His defensive numbers were near the top of the KHL as he played 434:35 and was only on the ice for 11 goals against. This is going to benefit the Canucks, no matter which line he plays on, he will improve possession numbers and help spend more time on the right side of the ice.

The fresh 20-year-old is coming to Vancouver soon and he was back on the ice today working out with a skills coach and some fellow KHL players in some offseason workouts.

We should get a media availability from Podkolzin soon and it will be great to finally ask him some questions as it has been tough to contact him during his time in Russia.

The wait is almost over. Podkolzin is coming and we wish him a happy 20th birthday today and are excited to see what he can do this fall.