Why Vasily Podkolzin starting the season with the AHL Canucks is the best thing for his development
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Faber2 months ago
There’s been a ton of chatter about Vasily Podkolzin in our comments section, on social media, and between media members at the rink.
Here’s the short way to say it.
Podkolzin likely begins the season in the AHL and due to the current construction of the Vancouver Canucks’ winger depth, it’s not a bad thing for Podkolzin to be in Abbotsford.
We were locked in during Podkolzin’s 18 and 19-year-old seasons in the KHL and I can tell you firsthand that those years were not good for his in-game development. There’s no doubt that SKA (his KHL team) had some of the best off-ice development in the world. They are one of the most prominent hockey organizations outside of North America and their performance facilities are amazing.
One problem with SKA is their on-ice development with young players.
Podkolzin experienced this as we watched game after game where he played 6-12 minutes a game and was never used on special teams except for the time the team had a major COVID outbreak and Podkolzin was one of the players who dodged the virus.
In his rookie NHL season, Podkolzin showed well. He scored 14 goals and added 12 assists in 79 games. His most consistent linemates were Elias Pettersson, Conor Garland, and J.T. Miller that season and he showed well with each of them during a season where the Canucks finished the season with a 40-30-12 record (92 points) and finished 5th in the Pacific Division.
Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com
Podkolzin showed that he had the raw talent to make an impact in the NHL and do it primarily in a top-six role.
Now, two seasons later, we come into a 2023-24 season and Podkolzin’s game is lacking identity. There’s a lot of talk about him trying too hard to fit into a system and the head coach wants the 22-year-old to just “let it hang”.
The problem here is that Podkolzin hasn’t been able to experiment with letting it hang over his hockey career. This is a 22-year-old kid who had two years of difficult development in the KHL and then had a good rookie season in the NHL before taking a step back last season and scoring just four goals and three assists in 39 games.
Development is key and that is something we are seeing prioritized by the Canucks’ new management group. The AHL isn’t a place for prospects to fade into irrelevance like Cole Cassels or find success elsewhere as we have seen with Jalen Chatfield.
With the move to Abbotsford, the farm is now a spot for players to learn new skills and try them in the second-best hockey league in the world. If you want to see Vasily Podkolzin develop into becoming a top-six forward, he needs to get reps and those reps will be available for him in the AHL. Podkolzin would be looked at as a player who is a class above the rest of the AHL players. As the 10th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Podkolzin has the draft clout to be deserving of an NHL job for his 22-year-old season but due to him having only one good season of development through his 17 to 21-year-old seasons, he needs to have a reset and focus on developing his game instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole as a role player in the NHL.
Ultimately, Podkolzin may end up becoming just a role player, but that shouldn’t be the destination due to a lack of development — it should come from development and him just not having as high of a ceiling as we initially thought.
The process of a young player coming into the NHL and making an impact has been a difficult rollercoaster ride for Canucks fans. We saw some flops during the Jim Benning years, with Jake Virtanen being an example of a rushed draft pick who flopped. Then there was the lack of development for draft picks like Gustav Forsling and Jared McCann, who have found success with other organizations.
It’s tough because Canucks fans have seen players like Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes come in and have immediate success in the world’s toughest league.
Unfortunately, not all first-round picks are equal and those rookie seasons from Boeser, Pettersson and Hughes certainly raise expectations from fans but you are simply not going to lock down top-six forwards and top-pairing defencemen with your first-round picks. NHL scouts miss and general managers often miss when they reach for a first-rounder that they like à la Olli Juolevi or the aforementioned Virtanen.
Podkolzin has a floor that is still quite high. He’s a forward who many NHL teams would be fine playing on their fourth line. The issue is that he has the potential to be more and right now, the AHL is the best spot for him to develop his game and raise his ceiling. He will be playing 20+ minutes a night while being on the first power play unit and the first forward to be over the boards for a penalty kill.
These are all great things for a kid who is still on his entry-level contract. On top of the ice time, Podkolzin will be able to work with Abbotsford head coach Jeremy Colliton, who is likely hungry to get back into the NHL. If Colliton can help Podkolzin find that ‘let it hang’ mentality, it would be a nice feather in Colliton’s cap as he builds his resume of developing young players. Podkolzin is also a coach’s dream and every bench boss that we’ve talked to speaks glowingly about Podkolzin’s work ethic and ability to understand what a coach wants from him.
On top of Colliton, we’ve spotted development coaches out in Abbotsford that include Jeff Ulmer, Yogi Svejkovsky, Mackenzie Braid, and both Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Podkolzin could learn a lot from each of these coaches, and specifically, the Sedins on how to handle developing for the NHL as a player who grew up playing hockey in Europe.
Not many people are writing off Podkolzin yet but we’ve seen a few ounces of worry in the market and just want to remind those folks that this is a 22-year-old kid who is so committed to improving but just hasn’t been led down the correct path to unlock his potential. Taking a step back at 22 years old is certainly not ideal but the step back has the potential to result in a slingshot effect of Podkolzin being able to play with recklessness that we haven’t seen consistently during his time as an NHLer.
Podkolzin’s best traits are his forechecking and shot power and when you are trying too hard to fit into a role, those parts of your game don’t get a chance to breathe — that’s all Podkolzin needs right now and the best spot for him to let his game breathe and hang is in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks.
You’ll see him in the NHL at some point but a massive point-production season in the AHL should help him recognize that he can be a scorer in the NHL one day and not just a bottom-six winger who can be defensively responsible.
The Canucks have committed a lot of new bodies to the development of their young players and the Podkolzin situation sets up a good chance for the organization to flex their development muscles a bit and build Podkolzin into the player we all hope he can become.
Podkolzin will only improve from AHL time and due to him being on his ELC, he will not require waivers to head down to the AHL.
Just remember that this kid just turned 22 years old. There’s still a lot of time left for him to become the top-six, hard-to-play-against winger with defensive upside and a powerful shot.
Development is so key for a player like Podkolzin and when winning is the only goal, development takes a backseat.
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