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Vasily Podkolzin’s ‘yo-yo’ season in Russia continues

Will he play in Edmonton? How soon might he join the Canucks?

Captain Vasily Podkolzin and his teenage ice troops pose for the traditional tournament victory photograph at the Karjala tournament in Helsinki, Finland on November 8th, 2020.
Photo by VESA MOILANEN/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images

When we last checked in on Vancouver Canucks’ blue-chip forward prospect Vasily Podkolzin, he had just finished captaining his band of Russian teenagers to an improbable Karjala Cup victory over the best available overseas european adult professional players from Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.

The tournament was hosted by Finland and with SKA scheduled to take on Jokerit in Helsinki two days after the conclusion of the tourney, it seemed like the perfect time for the young Russian bull to rejoin his KHL club and be rewarded with an insertion into their line-up in a prominent role. But Podkolzin is currently indentured in the hockey world of SKA head coach Valeri Bragin. The Soviet born and raised Russian tutor still seems married to the hammer-and-sickle approach to employee relations. His carrot to the youngster was disguised as a healthy scratch.

At best, Bragin certainly seems to have a shinny disconnect with well respected social media prospect watchers like Cam Robinson and Petr Malina.

Now like retired NHL enforcer Paul Bissonnette, you may scoff at the bonafides of the self-proclaimed young hockey experts of the interwebs. Afterall, Bragin does have a serious and lengthy coaching resume unlike the often derided ‘basement-dwellers’ of Twitter.

But you do have to consider the opinion of Russia’s U20 National team coach and former Vancouver Canuck, Igor Larionov, as valuable. Larionov loves Podkolzin and does not hide his enthusiasm for the player.

To be fair to Coach Bragin, perhaps he wanted to give Podkolzin a chance to decompress from the Cup victory instead of inserting him in the SKA line-up right away? Then, suddenly this appeared to be his reasoning. For SKA’s next game, Bragin sketched in #92’s name in the SKA line-up as his first line right winger! Had the old-style coach finally joined Team Larionov?

Podkolzin for the first time in a long time wore a great big public smile while wearing the SKA jersey. He was no doubt stoked to play first line minutes coming off of his tournament victory.

He then delivered this assist.

He then added this nice goal.

Still Bragin refused to put him out on the powerplay along with his first line linemates. So at the end of the game instead of about 18 minutes of playing time that first liners usually get, he only stepped on the ice for 12 minutes and 55 seconds. His ice time was therefore more in line with a bottom six forward’s blade time then the top six attacker he was anointed to be prior to the game.

But then Bragin inked Podkolzin into his line-up on the top trio again for his next game.

Podkolzin did not get on the scoresheet in this game. However, he did get credited with two shots on goal, two blocks and three hits and played well in only 13:15 in TOI. Surely, he would soon earn some powerplay time too from the hard-nosed old coach?

Nope. Instead Bragin delivered an old Soviet-style carrot again. A healthy scratch after two very good games on the first line? What was going on?

It has been three weeks now since I asked the question and I am still awaiting an answer. The delay in a reply makes me think Jim Benning was speaking the truth rather than just trolling SKA when he said this.

The Bragin line-up yo-yoing of Podkolzin continued for the rest of November. After the latest scratch, the young Moscow-born power forward played as the 13th forward, followed by two more games on the first line and then finished with two complete line-up scratches. He must be a dazed and confused young man right now.

Or at least he was before he was released to the Russian U20 World Juniors selection camp on November 29th.

Before letting Podkolzin leave for the welcoming embrace of Igor Larionov, Bragin threw some oil on the healthy scratch fire by saying Podkolzin was sick and implying he was not healthy scratched on November 26th and 28th.

Given the times we currently live in and the KHL’s record of being a hotbed of Covid-19 infections this hockey season, Bragin has raised the possibility that Podkolzin may not be able to pass the Covid-19 test he is required to take before boarding a plane to fly him to the Edmonton hockey bubble. Vancouver Canucks’ fans will know in just under a week whether or not Podkolzin will be coming to Canada to show off his skills in an appreciative setting.

It appears to me that SKA and coach Bragin have moved on from Vasily Podkolzin given his refusal to sign a KHL contract extension with their club. Indeed, they are building more barriers to his gaining more meaningful ice time instead of making room for him post WJC.

The ice time drama in Mother Russia will soon be over for Vasily Podkolzin. His KHL contract expires on April 30th, 2021. There is a slim chance that the contract expiry date is extended into June 2021 if the IIHF World Hockey Championships are not cancelled due to Covid-19 and he is named to Russia’s Mens National team to play in or be ready to play in the tournament.

Thomas Drance and Rick Dhaliwal reported in The Athletic that there is also a scenario where Podkolzin will be freed by SKA to begin his NHL career in Vancouver as early as mid to late March 2021. I am still a bit skeptical about the likelihood of this happening due to a relatively new KHL rule.

But both Drance and Dhaliwal have impeccable sources for their information.

If and when Podkolzin arrives on the West Coast this season, Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning has a clear vision of where he likely fits into the Vancouver line-up.

Craig Button of TSN stakes his reputation and job on Podkolzin becoming a top player in the NHL. He likens his style of play and likely NHL impact to the retired Jere Lehtinen.

I side with Craig Button’s opinion of Vasily Podkolzin. His high intensity, high pace, physical style of play does not mesh well with the slow and soft KHL style of play. It is why Linden Vey is a KHL star but only an NHL tweener at best. It is why Reid Boucher can find the time on the ice to get his lethal shot off in the KHL when he could not do it in the NHL. It is why players like Niklas Jensen and Jordan Schroeder are top performers in the land of the oligarchs and could not find regular employment in the best league in the world.

Once Vasily Podkolzin finally does arrive at Rogers Arena, I think Vancouver Canucks’ fans will soon after realize that they now have another player in their midst with the real potential to become yet one more NHL Calder Trophy finalist on their roster.