The Tape: A shift by shift analysis of Vasily Podkolzin’s NHL season debut

Photo credit:Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
It took until game 63 of the Vancouver Canucks’ season for Vasily Podkolzin to get the call-up and play his first game of the 2023-2024 NHL season. 
Podkolzin earned the call-up after registering 15 goals and 28 points in 44 games with the Abbotsford Canucks. The Russian forward slotted into the lineup right away — receiving the promotion Saturday evening and playing the very next day, Sunday night, against the Anaheim Ducks
Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet was asked pre-game what he was looking for in Podkolzin. 
“The battle stuff, coming out of the corner with the puck, taking the puck to the net. When he has the opportunity to shoot it, shoot it.”
Let’s break down his play, shift by shift and see if Podkolzin managed to do the things his coach was looking for.

First Period

Podkolzin got the opportunity to play on the Canucks’ third line alongside Elias Lindholm and Conor Garland. 
The first shift was quick for Podkolzin, as it lasted 29 seconds, but his impact was felt by both the Canucks and the Ducks. 
After a faceoff win by Elias Lindholm, Podkolzin is first to jump on the loose puck. He uses his frame to his advantage as he evades the defender and finds the open defenceman, Ian Cole, who throws the puck towards the net for a scoring chance. 
Later in the shift, Podkolzin brought the physicality as he pressured the defender. While this was not credited as a hit, we’ll call it an aggressive nudge of his opposition as Isac Lundestrom attempts to clear the zone. 
The next shift, Podkolzin wins the race to the Quinn Hughes dump-in, shouldering off the defender and ringing it around the boards to the open side. 
He then receives the puck from behind the net, skates around the net, and finds Garland in the high slot for a blocked high-danger shot attempt. Podkolzin doesn’t quit on the play as he stops on a dime and continues his puck pursual. 
Podkolzin had such an impressive defensive play on this shift. 
Amid a shift change for the Canucks’ forward group, Nikita Zadorov carries play up the ice, losing the puck against a double team. 
Noticing he needs to cover for the pinching defenceman, Podkolzin fades off the pressure of the puck carrier as Noah Juulsen leaves no room for the attacking Duck forward. Podkolzin stays close to the play but makes two look-backs to ensure he is between the puck carrier and the oncoming passing option.
Podkolzin is rewarded for his excellent positioning and retrieves the loose puck in front of the net. He uses his speed to evade the forechecking Ryan Strome and shows no fear as he takes the hit to clear the zone.
Seeing the situational awareness and defensive play here from the Russian forward was encouraging and something that won’t go unnoticed in the eyes of Rick Tocchet. 
After getting tied up with one of the league’s most intimidating defensive defencemen, Radko Gudas, Podkolzin breaks off the net front battle as he notices the play is shifting from high to low. Podkolzin finds the open area in the high slot and receives the pass from Garland for an open shot, firing the puck just wide.
With a defender draping on him, Lindholm makes a difficult pass around the defender into the skates of another defender. Podkolzin, again, stops on a dime and retrieves the loose puck. He pulls the puck away from a defender, trying to find Lindholm. That pass attempt was blocked, but Podkolzin got enough on the puck to push it over to Brock Boeser for a scoring chance.
Small clip here, but it is an excellent use of the body from Podkolzin. 
Garland pokes the puck off the defender to Lindholm, who flicks the puck up to maintain the zone. Instead of watching the puck, Podkolzin uses his body by backing into Cam Fowler, tying his stick up to allow Lindholm to retrieve the puck and continue pressure in the offensive zone. 
Podkolzin would finish the period with one individual scoring chance in 6:19 minutes of ice time in seven shifts.

Second Period

The first shift of the second period for Podkolzin came in relief of the first unit after a lengthy shift. This was, again, encouraging to see him get a crack on the powerplay – something that the player (Nils Hoglander) who has the ninth most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL has struggled to find this season.
While this unit struggled to get set up in the zone and build any offensive pressure, one play stood out for Podkolzin. The defender is the first to the puck after a Podkolzin dump-in, in which he bats the puck down and dives at the loose puck poking it through the defender’s legs. 
Unfortunately, the play resulted in a clear from the penalty kill, but the effort shown to dive at the puck here was admirable. 
If Podkolzin continues to forecheck like this, it will be tough for Tocchet to take him out of the lineup. 
Podkolzin takes the Lindholm pass in stride through the neutral zone, dumps the puck in and is the first to retrieve it. Once the puck is sent around the boards for the defender, Podkolzin parks his frame right in front of the net.
Garland makes a diving effort to send the pass through the crease, but the play probably would have had a better chance at progressing had he left it for Podkolzin.
Two small clips to highlight: 
Firstly, the vicious tenacity shown on the forecheck. 
Secondly, Podkolzin’s positional awareness in the defensive zone as he gets his stick in the passing lane and skates the puck out of the zone. 
The last two shifts of the second period for Podkolzin were uneventful. He would finish this period with 4:00 minutes of ice time in five shifts. 

Third Period

Podkolzin wasn’t a part of the play for his first two shifts; it wasn’t until 7:30 into the third that we saw him stand out. 
After a neutral zone turnover from Pius Suter, Podkolzin comes flying off the bench to pressure the puck carrier. With Juulsen’s help, the play results in a turnover. 
Picking up the loose puck in the neutral zone after an Elias Pettersson deflection and finds an open Hughes for a seamless dump-in into the offensive zone. 
Here, we see Podkolzin show more of the skill and patience in his offensive game.
Podkolzin receives the Lindholm saucer pass with one hand on the stick, picking up speed as he enters the offensive zone. He then opens up his stance, pulling the defender with him, opening up a huge lane for Hughes to receive the pass back and have a clear shooting lane for a scoring chance.
On this same shift, Podkolzin collects the puck behind the net and goes for a little skate. He demonstrates patience by not forcing a play, out-waiting the defender, and finding Hughes again for a shot attempt. 
In an attempt to clear the zone, Olen Zellweger fires the puck off the boards. Podkolzin spins around, using his body to block out Troy Terry and backhands the puck to keep it down low in the zone. 
After a missed attempt to retrieve the puck in the slot, Podkolzin quickly turns and is the first forward back, making his presence felt for the offensive threat through the neutral zone.
On the same shift, Podkolzin continues to pressure the puck, entering quite a physical board battle with Ryan Strome – showing that he’s not afraid to fight for the puck in the gritty areas.
It’s important to note that this shift came in the game’s final five minutes when the team was defending a one-goal lead – a telling sentiment from the coach based on his performance.
This was the 18th and final shift of the game for Podkolzin. He finished this period with 3:42 minutes of ice time in six shifts. 
Here are the final stats and analytics from Podkolzin’s season debut.
While the Ducks kept him off the score sheet, the defensive side of Podkolzin’s game was noticeable. The Canucks had seven scoring chances for, to one scoring chance against, with Podkolzin on the ice tonight. 
This amounts to an 87.50 scoring chances for percentage (SCF%), ranking as the second-highest forward on the team tonight. 
Podkolzin also failed to be credited with a hit tonight, which was shocking because of how often he used his body to his advantage, playing such a physical game. 
Tocchet had some kind words to say about Podkolzin’s debut. To listen to his full answer, skip to the 3:01 mark of the video above. 
“I thought Podz was pretty good. There were good moments (where he) held onto the puck. If he can hold onto pucks for us and get on the forecheck, that’s something that we’re looking for.” 
If forechecking is what this Canucks coaching staff is looking for, they may have found their guy. Multiple of the clips shown above emphasize how aggressive Podkolzin can be on the forecheck. 
Overall, it was a successful season debut for the former 10th overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft. While he may not have utilized his shot as much as his coach had hoped, he was consistently involved in board battles and came out of corners with the puck. 
Canucks fans should be encouraged by the development Podkolzin has made from his time down in Abbotsford. The forechecking prowess and the physical play he brings could be an essential in-house acquisition that they can pivot off adding at this Friday’s trade deadline.
So what do you think Canucks fans? Were you impressed with Vasily Podkolzin’s season debut?

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