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Vasily Podkolzin is healthy-scratched while Covid-19 wreaks havoc with overseas hockey schedules

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Podkolzin takes a seat while Hoglander shines.

United States v Russia: Semifinals - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship
Former Russia U20 junior team coach, now KHL SKA club coach, Valeri Bragin at the World Junior Championship tournament in Vancouver at Rogers Arena on January 4th, 2019
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

It has been challenging to follow the Vancouver Canucks’ NHL properties playing overseas this hockey season so far. The Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc with the various over-the-pond leagues’ schedules. Scheduled games are cancelled regularly, even at the last minute. New contests are also added out-of-the-blue to the daily offerings. Long gone are the guaranteed games published on lists months in advance. This unpredictability is made easier by the empty or barely populated rinks at most venues. Fixed schedules are there more so for the paying customers than the players in normal times. Not so much in the new normal.

The statuses of each league and the state of their various operations are updated almost on a daily basis.

With the completion of the NHL’s 2020 Entry Draft, the list of players to follow locally in the dead-of-night and very early mornings has expanded by three players. Also, the Vancouver Canucks have loaned a goalie overseas to play as well. The four new skaters added to the follow list are:

  1. Dmitri Zlodeyev
  2. Viktor Persson
  3. Joni Jurmo
  4. Arturs Silovs

Let’s get to it!

RUSSIA

When we last left Vasily Podkolzin, he was seemingly getting much less ice time from his head coach than his solid play warranted. He was stuck on his SKA club’s fourth line getting fourth line minutes for the most part.

Then Covid-19 decided to intervene. Much of the team and Head Coach Bragin tested positive for the virus and were sent into quarantine. Podkolzin suddenly found himself promoted upward in the line-up to the second line.

Then he was moved up to the first line with lots of power play time. Things were certainly trending upward for his hockey fortunes in what is expected to be his last season in the KHL. It appears he will sign his Entry Level Contract (ELC) with the Vancouver Canucks on or about May 1st, 2021 and then join them mid season for their 2020/21 NHL season which is currently expected to start in early 2021.

Unfortunately, when this new opportunity presented itself he was unable to take advantage of it. Instead he went into an offensive slump. After scoring one goal and one assist for two points in his first three games of the season, he has managed but two assists in his last fifteen games. Then yesterday this happened.

After taking about a month or so off to fight the coronavirus, head coach Valeri Bragin returned to the bench yesterday and one of his first moves was to healthy scratch Podkolzin along with three other players for last morning’s game.

SKA went on to soundly defeat their opponent Vityaz 5-1 without Podkolzin in the line-up. His ice time between now and Boxing Day, when he puts on the Russian U20 jersey in the Edmonton bubble for the World Junior Championship, may be limited unless he can get out of his coach’s doghouse and then bumps his offensive slump sooner than later.

On the contrary, Nikita Tryamkin’s head coach Bill Peters just oozes ice-time love for the Big Friendly Giant. The disgraced ex-NHL coach knows what he likes in a player and Tryamkin meets his checklist. He has sent out the Russian behemoth for a team leading 23 minutes and 18 seconds per game of ice time this season. This includes some Zdeno Chara-like monster ice time games when he is especially needed in a tight match.

Tryamkin has 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points and is a +3 in 18 KHL games this season. He has taken 32 shots on goal and adminstered 32 hits on opposing players and blocked 47 opposition shots. He has played a physical and sound defensive game and moved and/or carried the puck from his D-zone to the O-zone effectively.

The tall defenceman sure looks like he would be an improvement on the Canucks third defence pairing next season. However, his NHL restricted free agent (RFA) status and the out-of-sync 2020/21 NHL and KHL seasons mean he likely won’t be eligible to sign with the Canucks until the 2021/22 NHL season. To make his NHL future even murkier, he will be elgible on his 27th birthday on August 30th, 2021 to declare himself an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) for NHL purposes. Maybe he will end up eventually with Bill Peters last NHL team in Calgary. It seems like former Canucks are currently in vogue in Cow Town.

22 year old Vancouver Canucks’ 2018 6th round Entry Draft pick Artyom Manukyan may be at a crossroads in his hockey career. Low round picks are always longshots to be signed and make it to the NHL. The plucky little right winger has shown flashes of offensive skill and fiesty play in the KHL which made you think he did have a chance to make it though.

However, ever since his KHL coach Bob Hartley made the tough decision to demote him to the VHL (KHL’s AHL equivalent) at the end of training camp in late August he has given no indication yet to make Hartley think he was wrong. His VHL team, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, has been troubled by Covid-19 issues and Manukyan has only played six games this season and has been held pointless. Unless, he picks up the pace and works his way back onto a KHL roster, he may never ever be seen at Rogers Arena.

The Canucks’ 2020 Entry Draft’s 6th round pick, center Dmitri Zlodeyev, is looking like a keeper though. The 18 year Russian choice has notched 8 goals in 17 games this season in split time between his junior MHL club and VHL pro club. 4 of his 8 goals have been scored in 7 pro VHL games. If he keeps this pace up he may yet get a sniff of the KHL this season. Many of the draft experts who make their bread-and-butter in assessing young players think the Canucks got a steal when they were able to select him in such a late round.

If he makes moves like he did on his most recent goal in the VHL, he will have a real chance to suit up in Vancouver one day.

His reputation is that he wins more than his share of puck battles, is dogged defensively and plays on the right side of the puck. I think he projects to be a very good third line NHL center some day.

SWEDEN

Nils Hoglander signed his ELC contract with the Vancouver Canucks back in April and then soon after was loaned back to his SHL Rogle club until the start of NHL training camp for the 2020/21 season.

He had an excellent preseason with Rogle scoring four goals and adding five assists for nine points in seven preseason games. Even a failed shootout attempt by him was pretty to watch.

He then got off to a hot start notching four assists in his first two regular season SHL games.

While he has gone pointless in his subsequent six games since then, he continues to play well and should bump his offensive slump soon if he keeps making high effort plays like this giving teammates point blank scoring chances.

Linus Karlsson is off to a slow start to his Allsvenskan regular season. He has tallied just two assists in his first six regular season games for Karlskoga. Last season after joining Karlskoga midseason he put up eighteen points in twelve games. To be fair to him, a Covid-19 quarantine in September disrupted his preparations for the regular season. He is pictured below in the bottom left corner of the Tweet during quarantine.

Arvid Costmar has been busy this season playing for Sweden’s U20 WJC summer team, his Linkoping U20 junior club and his Linkoping SHL squad. He actually played a game for his junior team and then suited up for his SHL team and played for them a couple of hours after the conclusion of his junior game on the same day.

He is still ripping up the Swedish junior leagues when he plays there. He is scoring at a two point per game pace with six points in three games. He is being brought along slowly in his SHL games and is pointless in six games so far. However, he was only getting a couple of shifts per game as the club’s 13th forward in his first few games. He has recently been promoted to fourth line regular duties and earned 11:21 in ice time in his most recent SHL game. He is also playing all three forward positions in the SHL.

This summer he was pencilled in as Sweden’s U20 squad second line center. #14 delivered goals.

He also delivered assists.

Unfortunately, a Covid-19 outbreak just struck his SHL Linkoping club. Hopefully, the expected long quarantine does not get in the way of his progress. It is expected he will play for Sweden in the Edmonton bubble on Boxing Day, Covid-19 willing.

Vancouver Canucks’ 2020 7th round pick right handed defenceman Viktor Persson is giving every indication that he may be another last round steal for the NHL club just like Arvid Costmar was in the 2019 Entry Draft. The 18 year old defenceman intended to play for the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL this season but the coronavirus has delayed that move. The WHL intends to start its 2020/21 season tentatively on January 8th, 2021 so he may yet play in Canada this hockey season.

Last season he played in the Swedish J20 SuperElit (renamed this season as the J20 Nationell) League. He only managed to play in 26 games due to injuries but he put up 5 goals and 18 points in those limited games. Some draft experts think he would have gone many rounds higher in the 2020 Draft but for the injuries.

While he awaits to be summoned by Kamloops, he is playing for his former Brynas IF J20 club. He appears to be completely healthy again and he has scored 4 goals in 11 junior games so far this season.

This is his most recent goal.

FINLAND

Left side defenceman Toni Utunen has been on a rollercoaster ride since suffering a serious leg injury in September 2019 during a Champions Hockey League tournament game. At the time he was a third pairing defenceman playing regularly for his Finnish Liiga club Tappara. Once he returned after a long layoff he soon ended up as the team’s seventh defenceman garnering little ice time.

This season he dropped further down the pecking order and started out as Tappara’s eighth defenceman. He was a healthy scratch for for the squad’s first four games this season.

Then suddenly in Tappara’s fifth game he was in the line-up on the second defence pairing.

He has now played two straight games for Tappara on their second D-pairing. He has averaged an ice time of 15:56 per gane over those two games. He has managed four shots on goal but has not made it onto the scoresheet yet. He is a sound defensive defenceman. This year though he needs to show he can add some offensive contribution to a club at the professional level.

Utica escapee Petrus Palmu has yet to surface on an overseas team this season. He is on the last year of his ELC contract with the Canucks. He will be an RFA at the end of the 2020/21 NHL season. As things stands currently, it is very unlikely that Vancouver will qualify the little scoring forward. Instead they will likely let him run free as a UFA. It will be interesting to see if he is invited to the Canucks 2020/21 NHL training camp or told to stay away.

The Canucks’ did not have a pick in either the first or second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft since they surrendered them to other NHL teams during their trades for J.T. Miller and Tyler Toffoli (who has since signed as an UFA with the Montreal Canadiens).

However, they may have snared a raw gem with their third round pick left defenceman Joni Jurmo. The 6’4” fast skating, offensive rushing player could become an NHL force if he can get his defensive game in order. He has already taken a major step forward by making it as a seventh/eighth defenceman on the roster of JYP in the top professional league in Finland.

The 18 year old Finn has played in three of JYP’s six regular season games to-date. He has averaged a per game time-on-ice of 7:41 in the three games he has played. He is still looking for his first professional point.

Last season he played 52 games in total on various Finnish junior and international teams scoring 8 goals and 27 assists for 35 points. If his junior offensive dynamism ever transfers to the NHL level, then one day in the future Rogers Arena patrons will be leaping from their seats in appreciation when he makes an offensive rush and scores an end-to-end goal.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Center/right winger Lukas Jasek is on loan by the Vancouver Canucks from their AHL Utica club to HC Ocelari Trinic of the Czech Extraliga. He scored 14 goals and 27 points for Utica last season in 56 games played.

The Extraliga has been struck with recurring Covid-19 breakouts. As a result, Jasek has only played in two regular season games and has been kept off the scoresheet so far. He did score during the preseason when centering a line with Detroit Red Wings prospect Filip Zadina on it.

The Czech Extraliga is currently in the midst of a two week pause in its schedule which it hopes will help get its coronavirus problem more under control. Like Lukas Jasek, 2019 6th round draft choice winger Karel Plasek has also only played in two regular season games and has also been held off the scoresheet. The league is expected to start to try and play again on or about October 22nd. Hopefully, the Canucks’ properties playing in the Liiga will soon get some more ice time in.

LATVIA

The Canucks’ recently loaned their OHL goalie prospect Arturs Silovs to HS Riga of the Optibet Hokeja League (ironically also the OHL). Silovs has made two starts for Riga. His new team is a very weak team and Silovs has been peppered with shots. Despite an unflattering goals against average of 4.23 he has managed to carry a .923 save percentage along with it.

He was pretty much aerated by the opposition team in his first game back on the ice.

He got his mojo back for his second game and fought off most of an endless sea of rubber flung at him by his team’s opponent.

In the end, he managed to steal one point for his overmatched club, despite losing 3-2 in overtime.

It will be interesting to how many, if any, of the overseas hockey leagues that Canucks’ properties play in manage to complete their regular seasons and playoffs. Covid-19 is certainly causing a lot of disruption as the various leagues try to function in an uncertain environment.

It also raises the issue of whether or not the NHL in North America will be able to start and successfully complete its own 2020/21 season and award a Stanley Cup in 2021 outside the protection of a bubble.