Should the Canucks explore an internal option like Vasily Podkolzin in their top-six before making a trade?

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
The 2023/24 Vancouver Canucks are a bit of an enigma. A contradiction, if you will.
The Canucks are, as of this writing, both the top team in the NHL with 69 points and its second-highest-scoring team with 181 goals. And, yet, when fans, media, and the Canucks’ own front office talk about the team’s needs, it’s almost all about more scoring in the form of one or more acquisitions for the top-six between now and the 2024 Trade Deadline.
The Canucks have three de facto and definitive top-six forwards in the form of Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, and Brock Boeser.
They’ve got two wingers that have played that role before, but aren’t having the best of seasons, in Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko.
And they’ve got a handful of other players that might fit into the top-six here and there, but are really more built for the bottom-six, like Nils Höglander, Pius Suter, Phil di Giuseppe, and Sam Lafferty.
On the one hand, that’s plenty of offence on hand to be considered “good enough.” On the other hand, when a team is shaping up to be one of this season’s very best, “good enough” isn’t really good enough. The Canucks sure seem to have opened up a genuine window of contention here. They, and many observing them, believe that they can legitimately compete for a Stanley Cup this year.
And teams don’t typically win Cups with only half of their top-six written onto the roster in ink.
So, GM Patrik Allvin and Co. are reportedly on the hunt for a solution.
We’ve covered the trade market for additional scoring centres. We’ve explored the possibility of adding another scoring winger.
To say that the options are limited would be putting it mildly. There are perhaps three centres realistically on the market that seem capable of making a true difference for the Canucks, and perhaps twice that many wingers. And, of course, if the Canucks want to acquire any of them, they’ll be caught up in a bidding war with other contenders, most of whom are currently scoring less than the Canucks and might feel like they need the added offence even more.
The possibility of the Canucks seeking out a top-six forward over the course of the next six weeks, and still coming up empty, is real. So is the possibility that the cost for said top-six forward reaches such absurd heights that the Canucks can’t help but to pull out of negotiations.
It’s safe to say, then, that the Canucks should probably have a backup plan in place. That backup plan may need to come in the form of an internal promotion of some sort. And if that’s going to be the backup plan, now is probably the best time to try it out.
But what options do the Canucks currently have “in the system?”
The first name that comes to mind is Vasily Podkolzin. The former 10th overall pick in the 2019 Entry Draft has long been thought to have potential as a power forward on an NHL scoring line, but that potential as of yet remains largely untapped. After a poor training camp, Podkolzin was sent down to Abbotsford to rediscover his game.
The results, however, have been middle-of-the-road.
Podkolzin started exceptioanlly well for the Baby Canucks, with five goals and seven points through his first seven games on the 2023/24 AHL season. Then, he suffered a concussion in a scary on-ice incident and missed the next three weeks of play. Podkolzin has struggled to find consistency since his return.
Following his November 17 comeback, Podkolzin has notched just five goals and 13 points in 25 games. It’s not awful production, and it probably has much to do with his recovery from a head injury. But it’s not a statline that is screaming for a call-up, especially with Podkolzin having gone goalless in his last seven AHL games, picking up just two assists across that span.
There are those who will tell you that Podkolzin’s game continues to round itself out, and that he looks better than his numbers might suggest.
But there are really two lines of thinking here. One is that Podkolzin still needs more developmental time, and so he should remain in Abbotsford for the rest of the 2023/24 season. Look what a nearly full season in the AHL did for Höglander’s development. Podkolzin gets another honest shot in 2024/25, and they take it from there.
The other line of thought is that things aren’t currently working for Podkolzin right this moment, and if both he and the big club’s top-six are in need of a shakeup, maybe there’s a mutually beneficial solution available?
Call Podkolzin up now, while the top-six is unsettled, and pop him onto the wing of either Pettersson or Miller. With both those centres putting up remarkable numbers and the team as a whole really rolling, it might just be the best possible opportunity to finally get Podkolzin going at the NHL level.
But both of those perspectives centre around what is best for Podkolzin and his development. Right now, Allvin and Co. need to be looking at a much bigger picture, and when it comes to what is best for the Canucks as they attempt to compete in the present moment, it’s hard to imagine Podkolzin in the top-six being anything approaching an ideal situation.
Are there any other internal options on hand?
Not really.
Linus Karlsson has earned a couple of call-ups, but has thus far struggled to make much of an impact at the NHL level. Arshdeep Bains is Abbotsford’s top scorer with 36 points in 36 games, but he’s just passed the 100-game mark at the professional level, and probably needs more time to develop before taking on an NHL role – which will almost certainly be a bottom-six role when it happens.
Aatu Raty and Max Sasson are both coming along and having fine seasons, but both need more seasoning.
No one else stands out as even an intriguing possibility.
Then there’s Jonathan Lekkerimäki. After being named World Juniors MVP, Lekkerimäki is the Canucks’ top forward prospect, period, but he’s safely tucked away overseas with Orebro HK of the SHL for the time being.
The SHL regular season does wrap up on March 12, 2024, a full month ahead of the Canucks and the NHL. Theoretically, that would be plenty of time to bring Lekkerimäki over, give him time to get acclimatized, and then try him out in the top-six for a bit heading into the playoffs.
But that would come after the Trade Deadline, so it wouldn’t be a backup plan. It would be something the Canucks might have to resort to after striking out at the deadline.
And it’s not even a guarantee that the timing would work out. Orebro is currently in a playoff position in the SHL, albeit a low one. If they make it to even the second round, Lekkerimäki won’t be available until the NHL regular season is concluded, at which point they might as well wait until 2024/25 for him to make his debut.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying what many of us already knew: the Canucks don’t really have any good internal options to try out in their top-six, aside from those already on the NHL roster.
That further underscores the need for them to make at least on acquisition between now and the deadline, and preferably a good one.
In the meantime, there’s probably no issue with at least trying out Podkolzin in the role. As we said, he’s in the midst of some AHL doldrums right now, and there’s room both on the Canucks’ roster and under their cap with Carson Soucy back on the injured list. (And there’s room for Podkolzin’s potential bonuses, too, thanks to some clever preseason roster-papering.)
But no one should be expecting Podkolzin, with ten goals in 31 AHL games, to be a real NHL scoring solution here, nor any other internal promotion.
The answers that the Canucks are seeking will almost certainly be found outside of the organization.

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