Vancouver Canucks fans have had to be patient for Vasily Podkolzin to arrive in North America, but that patience is about to be rewarded as the Russian forward has touched down in Vancouver. Podkolzin walks into a situation where he has a prime opportunity to be an impact player from the jump and judging by his history, it won’t take long for him to acclimate himself.
Weight: 191 lbs
2021-22 Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
During his draft-eligible season, Podkolzin was generally regarded as the third-best player available and held that position in many different rankings. Central Scouting had him listed as the second-best international skater — behind current New York Ranger Kappo Kakko — as teams were enamoured with his gritty game.
However, when it came time to make the actual selections, Podkolzin wasn’t drafted in the top three or even the top five. Instead, he slid all the way down to the Vancouver Canucks with the 10th overall selection who were waiting with their arms open.
Teams didn’t want to wait the few years that it would take for Podkolzin to arrive in North America, instead opting for prospects who they could keep more control over in the short term.
Since that day, Canucks fans have had to get by watching clips on Twitter and World Juniors games as Podkolzin played out his contract in the KHL. Given how tough it is for young players to break into that league, especially those who will leave for North America the first chance they get, Podkolzin wasn’t put in a position to succeed.
Now he will walk into training camp with the Canucks with a larger role up for grabs in the NHL than he played in the KHL. Many prospects in recent Canucks’ history have made a seamless transition to the NHL and everyone anxiously awaits to see if he can do the same.
What does Podkolzin bring to the table?
Watch Podkolzin play hockey and you’ll see him buzzing around the ice, always looking to retrieve the puck. He’s a tenacious forechecker that isn’t afraid to use his bigger frame to separate opponents from the puck. Many scouts compliment him on his high motor.
Just watch this goal below to see how Podkolzin sticks with the play and puts the puck in the net through sheer willpower.
Playoff goal #5 for Vasily Podkolzin pic.twitter.com/McFxk2rmIH
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 10, 2021
However, Podkolzin’s game isn’t just based on power and strength. He’s a sneakily good passer that will find teammates in the offensive zone and set them up for scoring chances. Podkolzin was given an increased role in the last KHL playoffs and he took full advantage, scoring 11 points in 16 games. It’s easy to picture him recording plenty of assists if he sticks on a line with Bo Horvat or another one of the Canucks’ talented goalscorers.
While it may not happen immediately, he does have the skill set required to be an impact offensive player in the NHL and get his name on the scoresheet.
Just take a look at this goal for a glimpse of Podkolzin’s highlight-reel ability. He has an intriguing combination of size and skill that has fans eager to see him in a Canucks uniform. The smaller North American ice should only make Podkolzin more effective as he plays a bruising, North-South style.
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) September 9, 2019
What are Podkolzin’s areas for concern?
The biggest concern around Podkolzin’s game is the fact that he doesn’t have the elite talent that would make him a shoo-in to be a top-line player in the future. While his offensive game isn’t terrible — as mentioned above he’s a strong passer and scored at a good rate against men in the KHL playoffs — he isn’t the type of player that can be counted on to be a team’s star in the offensive zone.
Some may also be concerned that Podkolzin’s lack of playing time in Russia this season may have hurt his development. He did some bouncing between leagues and even found himself as a healthy scratch at one point. While it was less than ideal, Podkolzin’s performances at tournaments such as the World Juniors and in the minutes that he did get in the KHL should quell those concerns.
It’s also worth mentioning that moving from Russia to Vancouver is a big transition, especially when you’re 20 years old and entering a hockey-crazed market where there is sure to be pressure. How Podkolzin handles this is yet to be seen but he will have the Canucks’ core and organization as a whole alongside him to help every step of the way.
Where will Podkolzin fit in the lineup this season and in the future?
The Canucks have an exciting, young forward group for this upcoming season and head coach Travis Green will have plenty of different options in how he deploys his lines. Podkolzin will most likely slide in somewhere in the middle-six to begin with but it’s not out of the question that he could find himself riding shotgun alongside Elias Pettersson at some point this year.
In addition, if Green elects to keep the Lotto Line together then he may be nervous about having Nils Höglander and Conor Garland play alongside Bo Horvat on the second line due to their smaller size. Podkolzin could be the big body that line needs and it’s pretty easy to see him meshing well with the captain.
“We have high hopes for him,” Green told CHEKTV. “Where he fits in, we will take it day by day.”
At this point, the only thing that’s clear is that Podkolzin will be given a spot in the top-nine from the jump and that he will likely get an opportunity on a few different lines before he settles down.