Technically speaking, only three years have passed since 2019, and yet it feels like it’s been a lot longer than that.
Back in 2019, the pandemic hadn’t occurred yet, the Canucks didn’t have an NHL team within 500 kilometres of them, and Vasily Podkolzin was about the be drafted.
All pre-draft predictors had Podkolzin ranked safely within their top-ten. Many of them had Podkolzin ranked in their top-five, and a select few — including big names like Sam Cosentino and McKeen’s — had Podkolzin listed at third overall, behind only Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.
And yet, when Draft Day 2019 arrived, Podkolzin began to slide. Nine teams approached the podium and selected someone else before the Vancouver Canucks happily snagged Podkolzin at 10th overall.
Given the disparity between his pre-draft ranking and his actual draft position, there were those who immediately announced that the Canucks had made “a steal” of a pick.
Advertisement
Ad
It’s been a long, slow, and sometimes frustrating developmental arc for Podkolzin since then, but we are finally seeing indicators that those folks might have been right — and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Canucks.
To be clear, when we say that Podkolzin has officially “arrived,” we’re probably being a tad premature.
He did take a little time adjusting to the pace of the NHL game as a rookie in early 2021/22, but that was probably to be expected. Freshman campaigns are difficult for any player, and this was Podkolzin’s first season on North American ice, period. He moved several continents over, had to learn English on the fly, and joined a Vancouver team in the midst of some serious turmoil. He’s always been billed as a power forward, and everyone knows that the jump to the big league is always a little trickier for those types.
Advertisement
Ad
On top of all that, Podkolzin’s hampered development in the KHL was well-documented. In what can’t really be interpreted as anything more than sour grapes over his refusal to sign an extension with St. Petersburg SKA, Podkolzin saw his ice-time dramatically limited throughout the 2019/20 season — until the playoffs hit, of course, and his team needed him on the ice in order to win games.
Even under those circumstances, Podkolzin’s talent shone through, especially at the World Juniors and the Karjala Cup, where he was able to get off the KHL leash a little bit and just play hockey.
But what we’re really saying is that a slow start to Podkolzin’s rookie season was to be expected, and that’s exactly what the Canucks got.
Podkolzin notched only one single point in his first month of play, and was even subject to a healthy scratch. He scored four points in November, and then hit another bit of a skid through December and January, scoring only five points in total.
Advertisement
Ad
To say that Podkolzin has turned things fully around since then would be a misnomer, but he’s certainly found more consistency and less inconsistency. After four points in ten February games, Podkolzin put up points in three straight games to start March — and then promptly hit his worst skid of the year, going pointless in ten.
Since then, however, Podkolzin seems to have finally hit his stride. Going back to March 28, Podkolzin has four points in seven games, which is certainly encouraging, but there are also a bunch of other factors at play that indicate that he’s not just scoring, but truly playing as a genuine top-six talent. When we say he’s “arrived,” that’s what we mean.
Podkolzin has only averaged 12:26 of ice-time on the season overall, but since March 28, he’s been over 14 minutes on every single night, and up over 16 minutes on two occasions. This, despite the Canucks’ top-six being entirely healthy.
Advertisement
Ad
His fancy stats have also started to climb into the upper tier of the Canucks’ forward corps. His possession metrics, shot control, chance control, and expected goals have all steadily risen until, at this point, they’re all at either positive or close to it.
Over the last few weeks, Podkolzin’s Corsi rating has been somewhere in the top-five of Canucks performers on a near-nighty basis.
Like any good top-six forward, Podkolzin has also made his linemates better. Less than 15% of Elias Pettersson’s even-strength minutes have been played alongside Podkolzin, and yet he’s picked up seven of his 32 even-strength points during that time.
And let’s not forget that it’s not all about the numbers. Anyone watching Podkolzin over the past couple of weeks can see the difference in his play. He’s confident enough to start being creative out there. He’s driving the net. He’s finding his teammates all over the ice, and he’s developing some serious chemistry with Pettersson and others.
Advertisement
Ad
Heck, Podkolzin even punched Timo Meier in the face the other night. The power forward in him is awakening and, as we said at the outset, it couldn’t come at a better time for the Canucks.
There’s no doubt that change is coming this offseason. Right now, the Canucks’ definitive top-six includes Pettersson, JT Miller, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Conor Garland. There’s already a space there for Podkolzin, and that space is going to get even wider when one or more of those aforementioned players is traded this summer.
But that’s perfectly fine. Podkolzin is playing like a top-six forward already, and he’s poised to continue in that role from here on out, and for at least the next decade or so. Remember, the kid won’t even turn 21 until June.
Advertisement
Ad
And we he takes it up a further notch from where he’s at now? That’s when we start seeing exactly why those prognosticators ranked Podkolzin in the top-three of his draft class — and when the rest of the league starts taking real notice.