Vasily Podkolzin is developing terrifically for the Vancouver Canucks. Supporters of the team should be thrilled with his development. There were some concerns about his trajectory this season after he struggled to find ice time in the KHL at the start of the year, but all doubts should be put to rest. He was a divisive prospect at the 2019 NHL Draft last June. While some analysts considered him to be a top-five prospect in that class — he began the year as the consensus third-best prospect —, he dropped to tenth overall. The Canucks, who should not have been able to draft a player of this caliber, were once again the recipients of good fortune.
Podkolzin’s quality of play at Russia’s highest professional level is evident in today’s edition of Eight-Minute Insights. Our presentation features his performance on March 5, 2020 in Game 3 of the 2020 KHL playoffs against Vityaz.
This game is just one of many towards the end of 2019-20 KHL campaign in which Podkolzin thrived. He scored 11 points in his final 17 games, regular season and playoffs combined, all while averaging approximately twelve minutes of ice time per night. The improvement of his offensive totals is not the only good news for Canucks fans, however. He has successfully been able to adapt his overall game to the KHL level, implementing into his performances the intelligent, two-way style of play he has become known for throughout his career.
He is a relentless forechecker and a strong backchecker. Draft experts have previously noted his tenacious work and persistence to interrupt the opposition’s attack with his proactive sense of anticipation and intelligent positioning. He has developed into a responsible defensive player in the KHL as a result of his high hockey IQ, often placing himself in a position to intercept pucks and create trouble for the opponent. He exhibits strong board play and utilizes a combination of quick puck-handling and pivots to protect the puck in traffic. He moves the puck as soon as he can to an open teammate, not hesitating to alleviate the pressure on himself in difficult board situations. His game is quite mature.
Among the most notable strengths that Podkolzin possesses is his ability to distribute the puck crisply and in a timely fashion. Unlike Alexander Barabanov, another aggressive forechecking player who plays for the same team and whose services are currently coveted by numerous NHL clubs, Podkolzin executes passes quickly upon his retrieval the puck. Barabanov, on the other hand, is often guilty of over-handling the puck and attempting too many individual plays. Barabanov attempts to control the puck in the manner of a power forward, needlessly carrying it at times, whereas Podkolzin forechecks to free the puck quickly. Subtle differences such as this allow us show that Podkolzin facilitates quick puck movement and reinforces his team’s possession, while Barabanov risks turning the puck over to the opponent and ending his team’s forecheck. You can access our Alexander Barabanov video here.
This puck distribution tendency is an affirmation of Vasili Podkolzin’s excellent sense of vision and his keen awareness of his teammates. As a pass-first player, he sometimes opts for give-and-go plays, sending the puck back to his defenceman before moving up the ice for a return pass. He sometimes skates high in the offensive zone to quarterback plays as well as to encourage his defenceman to activate offensively in the lower half of the zone.
Podkolzin exhibits above-average straight-line speed and can carry the puck up the ice individually as well. His skating is well-rounded, and he is capable of stutter-stepping and changing his direction quickly as a means of creating space. His quick bursts help him to pressure the opponent and pounce on loose pucks.
He was labelled a goal scorer during his draft year, partly due to his explosion of offense at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he scored eight goals in five games. However, his pass-first play as of late has shown that he is an equally-adept playmaker. His prowess as a goal scorer appears to have diminished for the time being. In only four of his thirty games with SKA St. Petersburg in 2019-20 did he place more than two shots on goal, although our footage shows that he is discreet about firing the puck on net rather than simply not being in a position for shot opportunities.
He does not force shots on net or try to drive the puck towards the goal as he did in his draft year. One of the criticisms of his game last season and one of the contributing factors to his fall in the draft order was his perceived sense of tunnel vision. He was renowned in his draft season for his end-to-end rushes and often drove to the net quite aggressively, but he now exhibits a greater sense of tact. This makes him a more dangerous, less predictable player overall.
He has become a more complete player this season and has demonstrated that he possesses a more varied arsenal than scouts once believed. There continue to be questions about his offensive production, which is why an improvement of his point totals over the course of an entire KHL campaign is among the expectations for next season. His 11 points in 34 KHL games in 2019-20, accounting for both regular season and playoff matches, are respectable for a rookie whose ice time and role were relatively minuscule, especially considering all eleven points were scored in the second half of the year.
Vasily Podkolzin has recently excelled in a limited capacity with his club. He has become a line driver whose ability to gain possession of the puck and then send it to teammates now plays a major factor in his KHL team’s offensive approach whenever he is on the ice. He plays a noticeable role on most of his shifts despite the sparse number he usually plays.
The Vancouver Canucks and their fans have much to look forward to with regards to their most recent first-round prospect and should be relieved to know that he is developing steadily. His offensive potential is rather high, and his reliable defensive game is among his most acclaimed characteristics.
The organization has experienced a seemingly-unprecedented run of successful first-round prospects as of late with success in that regard beyond anything the franchise has ever experienced in the past. Their streak of high-end prospects will seemingly continue with Vasily Podkolzin, whose contract with SKA St. Petersburg expires at the end of the 2020-21 KHL season. With the Canucks seeking to sign their other highly-talented prospect Nils Hoglander, the next two seasons will be full of intrigue for prospect enthusiasts. There is much to be excited about in Vancouver these days.