After going without a goal in his 16 NHL games this season, Vasily Podkolzin was assigned to the AHL on November 28th.
The goal was for him to build his confidence and simply play more minutes.
“Young guys need to play. I mean, that’s the biggest thing,” said Bruce Boudreau when he met with the media after Podkolzin was sent down to the AHL. “Right now, when we’re playing fairly well, it’s no good for Podz to sit in the stands.”
Many hoped that this season was going to be a breakout year for Podkolzin. He was coming off a strong rookie season, where he scored 14 goals and added 12 assists in 79 games. 12 of his goals and 11 of his assists came at even-strength last season. We were expecting Podkolzin to be a serious top-six option this year but development is not a straight line and he now finds himself in the AHL for a stint to develop confidence and ultimately set the stage for him to make a return to the NHL as a player with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
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Podkolzin has been skating on Abbotsford’s top line alongside Phil DiGiuseppe and Lane Pederson. On top of his first-line duties, Podkolzin is getting time on the second power play unit and is seeing his role as a penalty killer grow.
“We want to get him killing penalties,” said Abbotsford head coach Jeremy Colliton when asked about Podkolzin on Thursday’s episode of Canucks Conversation. “He got here on Tuesday and it was hard to have him killing [penalties] that night. It takes some time for him to understand what we’re trying to do and just get comfortable. You kind of feed it to him piecemeal. This weekend, he got a little bit more, and there was lots of video. This week we used it as a chance to get him extra reps. Hopefully, we can just keep giving him a little bit more [time] and he can gain confidence.”
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Even in the times of Podkolzin’s KHL career when he wasn’t getting much ice time, he was consistently used as a penalty killer. It’s a part of his game that we have not seen at the NHL level but getting a chance in the AHL to be on the ice while shorthanded is a spot where Podkolzin feels confident in his own ability.
“I feel comfortable on the PK, I know this job, and I like this job,” Podkolzin told CanucksArmy on Friday after a 7-0 win over the Manitoba Moose. “It’s a really good opportunity for me to feel this confidence coming back. I really appreciate it. I feel like I have to respond to it because not too many guys get this time on the PK or on the power play. I just appreciate the time, I’m here to work, and I’m working.”
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It’s not just the chance to play on special teams units that is helping Podkolzin gain his confidence. He spoke about having the puck on his stick more and how that helps with the rhythm of being in a game. Podkolzin was averaging under 11 minutes of ice time over the nine games prior to being assigned to the AHL. He is now carrying the puck a lot through the neutral zone, being able to cycle with the puck in the offensive zone and with the extra room in the AHL, he is getting many more opportunities to set up scoring chances with his playmaking as well as diving into the dirty areas on his own to get a scoring chance off his stick.
“That’s the most important thing probably,” said Podkolzin when asked about having the puck on his stick more during this AHL stint. “When you control the puck, you see all the guys and try to use your linemates and make it easy to play. I’m just trying to play offence and make some plays but also play strong defence.”
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One of the interesting things that Abbotsford head coach Jeremy Colliton said to me was how confidence comes easily when you’re winning, and for Podkolzin, winning has been a consistent outcome in his time with the AHL team.
The Abbotsford Canucks have played in six games since Podkolzin was sent down and they hold a 5-1 record over that time.
Winning heals a lot of issues but Podkolzin is down there to work and he is being critical when evaluating his own performances in the AHL. He mentioned that he wasn’t that good on Friday night but said that he is going to continue to work and be better for the next game and for every game he plays down in Abbotsford.
The 21-year-old winger is getting a chance to build up his confidence before he returns to the NHL and the opportunity to work is nothing that Podkolzin will shy away from. He mentioned that he was beginning to feel that spark again and that’s what a young player needs. Utilizing the proximity of the AHL team is something that was talked about a lot when the Canucks announced moving their AHL team to Abbotsford and we are seeing that come to fruition now.
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“I’m getting confidence right now, I feel really good right now,” said Podkolzin. “I will be better and right now, I feel good. That’s the most important thing.”
The Abbotsford Canucks are set to hit the road for three games in four nights, beginning on Wednesday, December 14th. They return home for back-to-back games at home against the San Jose Barracuda on December 20th and 21st before a Christmas break that will bring them to road games in Manitoba on the 30th and 31st.
We’re not sure how long Podkolzin is going to continue his AHL stint but do know that this isn’t something that is hurting his game. The opportunity to play is always better than sitting in the press box and Podkolzin is the type of player who doesn’t shy away from working hard to improve. The next time we see Podkolzin in the NHL, he will definitely be more confident in his own ability and might be ready to finally get the chance to kill penalties at the NHL level.
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Time will tell for what’s next but there’s no need to worry at all about what’s happening with him in the AHL for the time being.