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Vasily Podkolzin’s road to Vancouver hits a detour with a demotion to the VHL

Next stop for Podz likely to be another step down to Russia’s U20 National junior team.

KHL Western Conference Quarterfinal, Leg 1: SKA St Petersburg vs Vityaz Moscow Region
#92 Vasily Podkolzin and his teammates celebrate scoring a goal in the KHL playoffs just before the playoffs were shutdown in March 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

Much of the Vancouver Canucks’ dedicated Twitter-verse waited apprehensively this morning to see if Vasily Podkolzin would return to his SKA club’s KHL line-up for their game against Avangard today. The Canucks’ 2019 10th overall draft pick had been scratched for SKA’s last two games.

It appeared that the press box reassignment was despite Podkolzin being fully healthy and able to play. Some on Twitter though postulated that perhaps he was fighting an undisclosed injury, or worse, that he had been infected by Covid-19 and was in quarantine.

The line-up was released on Twitter about an hour before game time. The familiar #92 that Podkolzin wears on his back was again absent from SKA’s line-up.

After some detective work though his name was found to be on an active pre-game roster. He was wearing #19 for SKA Neva of the VHL. He had been demoted to the AHL-like VHL team by his parent KHL club.

The demotion must be a hard pill for the blue-chip NHL prospect to swallow. Last season, when Covid 19 shut down the KHL playoffs, he was emerging as a top player on SKA’s club. Now he is being yoyo’ed again in the unpredictable Russian system of unusual player development.

On the bright side, instead of eating borscht in the press box, he was back on the first line this morning.

He was also appearing on SKA Neva’s first unit power play group.

In addition, he got the primary assist on SKA Neva’s eventual 3-1 game winning goal and even earned some time on their penalty killing crew.

It is hard to predict what Podkolzin’s immediate hockey future holds for him from now until his expected arrival (hopefully) at YVR airport on or about May 1st, 2021. For example, he could be called up for SKA’s next game. But SKA this morning, without Podkolzin in their line-up, defeated one of their top rivals Avangard 5-2.

So it is most likely that he will continue to lace up his skates for SKA Neva through the end of the hated coronavirus year 2020, save for his expected tournament appearances for the Russian U20 National junior team in Helsinki and then Edmonton.

Once he completes the WJC tournament in Edmonton, I expect he will be recalled by SKA to the KHL for the final two months of their regular season and their playoffs which begin on March 2nd, 2021. If SKA goes on to win the Gagarin Cup they will likely be playing well into April 2021. Hopefully, Podkolzin will still get to play a key part in their pursuit of the KHL’s ultimate prize. But in the Russian hockey system you never know what will unfold.

Vancouver Canucks’ fans hope that their prized prospect arrives on May 1st ready to help their own 2020/21 version of their hockey club make the playoffs and then do some damage in the NHL’s 2021 playoffs. Some supporters though pine for a way to get Podkolzin freed early from his Russian bosses to join their Rain City team in time for their 2020/21 NHL training camp. Unfortunately for their hopes, there are only two ways that this might happen and neither is very likely to occur.

So the only realistic route for Vancouver Canucks fans is to remain patient and hope that Travis Green can quickly rebuild the confidence of the young Moscow born power forward soon after he arrives on the banks of English Bay in May. He is certainly the type of player Coach Green salivates for.