Vasily Podkolzin fits the profile of a late bloomer, but he only has one more calendar year to bloom with the Canucks
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Vasily Podkolzin did not make the Vancouver Canucks out of Training Camp this year, and that’s obviously raised some reasonable concerns within the fanbase and local mediasphere.
No one doubts Podkolzin’s talent. He’s got the skating, he’s got the size, he’s got the shot, and he’s got the hands. There’s little, skill-wise, that Podkolzin can’t do well. But putting it all together into the shape of an NHL hockey player? That’s remained elusive to the 22-year-old at this point in his career.
Obviously, plenty of opinions have been shared about Podkolzin’s future with the Canucks over the past couple of weeks. Some folks are preaching patience and holding out hope of Podkolzin being somewhat of a late bloomer, while others are already busting out the “b-word” and calling it a write-off.
But opinions are only ever worth so much. Facts are typically a lot more valuable.
So, here’s two things we can say about Vasily Podkolzin with certitude:
- Vasily Podkolzin definitely fits the profile of a classic late bloomer.
- He only has about one calendar year left if he’s going to bloom with the Vancouver Canucks.
Let us explain. No, there is too much. Let us sum it up.
The term “late bloomer” can mean a lot of things, but in hockey circles it generally means a youngish prospect-turned-player who breaks into NHL competency past an age at which most had reasonably given up on them.
Usually, the label is applied to the undrafted who eventually make it, or those drafted in the late rounds who suddenly leapfrog a bunch of prospects rated higher in the cupboard. So, on that description, Podkolzin doesn’t really fit the bill as a former 10th overall draft pick.
But all the other traditional markers are there.
There’s delayed development. As most will recall, Podkolzin’s Draft+1 and Draft+2 seasons didn’t exactly follow the “fostering the development of a blue-chip prospect” playbook. There was some bad blood over Podkolzin’s refusal to sign a lengthier KHL contract, and so he was essentially reduced to fourth line minutes on SKA St. Petersburg for two seasons running, with brief interludes only for international play and the playoffs.
That’s nowhere near ideal.
So, if Podkolzin’s progress was a few steps behind when he arrived in Vancouver circa 2021, it was understandable.
But things haven’t been great since, either. Podkolzin had a fine enough rookie campaign (26 points in 79 games with limited minutes), to be followed up by a sophomore step-back that saw him demoted to the AHL. Which brings us back to the modern day, where Podkolzin is once again Abbotsford-bound.
Consider, however, that what Podkolzin really experienced here, in his first and second seasons on North American ice, was what amounted to two of the most disastrous starts in franchise history. The poor fellow saw his first two NHL coaches fired just months into the season.
So a lack of an ideal environment, leading to a lack of development, but suggesting the continued possibility for said development within an improved environment? Check.
Late bloomers are often those prospects best described as projects. Those players that have plenty of “tools” but no “toolbox,” to borrow an overused sports metaphor. Then, when a player does late-bloom, it’s like they found their toolbox. Can Podkolzin get his hands on a DeWalt?
You can really hear it in the way head coach Rick Tocchet talks about him.
Shortly after Podkolzin was cut, Tocchet spoke to the press about Podkolzin’s ongoing status as someone on the cusp of greatness. Said Tocchet, “He checks all the boxes and hard work, what a great kid,” said Tocchet. “It’s grasping the NHL, like the reads and the hockey IQ — things like that. I think it’s very important for development. I think him spending time with Jeremy [Colliton], playing a lot. Putting him in these situations, a lot of situations is going to help that growth in his mind, that’s what I really believe in. And the organization, we’re all aligned in this.”
In fact, Tocchet goes as far as to describe Podkolzin’s verging breakthrough as a mental one more so than a question of ability: “It’s like chess. He’s got to have to think two steps before you make that play.”
So, a slightly frustrated coach who believes his player is just teetering on the edge of greatness? Check.
And then there’s that old, time-tested stereotype that just so happens to be true, which is that power forwards take the longest to develop. Podkolzin is one such power forward.
Former Canuck Todd Bertuzzi is the exemplar case in this theory.
Bertuzzi made the NHL with the New York Islanders at the age of 20 (like Podkolzin), and had a decidedly mid rookie campaign. He took a step back as a sophomore, and wound up in the minors (like Podkolzin). Then, as a 22-year-old, he struggled to make his team out of camp (again, like Podkolzin).
Here’s where the tales diverge. At that point, Bertuzzi was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. He didn’t break all the way out right away, but he’d crack 50 points by his third full year in Vancouver and hit 97 just a few years after that.
Podkolzin, meanwhile, is still with the team that drafted him for the time being.
So, we’ve got the delayed development, the coach’s frustration, and the power forward pedigree. Check, check, check.
And we’ve got the skillset, the bad on-ice goaltending results, the fancy stats that are typically way better than what Podkolzin actually produces, the expected goals and all that.
All reasonable factors and reasons to believe that Podkolzin might just be one of those players who breaks out late, but breaks out hard.
And the Canucks still have him in hand. Why not just wait it out until he blooms?
Because of the whole waivers thing.
Podkolzin will lose his waiver exemption as of the start of next season, having completed his third professional season. That means that he either makes the Canucks at the outset of 2024/25, or is traded prior, or has to hit the waiver wire on the way to Abbotsford. At which point, all those things that we painstakingly laid out as factors toward Podkolzin’s late-blooming become factors in favour of another team picking him up.
There’s just no scenario in which a 23-year-old former tenth overall power forward makes it through his first trip on waivers. It’s just not going to happen.
And thus, a tight timeline emerges. Podkolzin may have all the hallmarks of a late bloomer, but unless he can do some serious blooming in the calendar year that is to come, the Canucks will probably have to accept that the bloom will come elsewhere or not at all.
From the Canucks’ perspective, however, the immediate path forward is pretty easy. Keep Podkolzin in Abbotsford (minus a day one papering up for bonus purposes) and load him up with as many minutes and opportunities as is possible. Give him every chance to hit a different level in the AHL, then call him up when the time is right and give him every chance to do the same at the NHL level.
If it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. But when a player has this much potential to be a long-term difference-maker, you want to pull out all the stops before pulling the chute.
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