It’s been a tale of two seasons for Vancouver Canucks prospect Vasily Podkolzin. At one point, it seemed as if the 18-year-old would never record a point while playing for SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. Thankfully, for both SKA and Canucks fans, those fortunes have changed as of late.
After playing the first 17 games without recording a goal or assist, Podkolzin has cranked it up in his last 15 games with 10 points, including his first two playoff points in their first-round series against Vityaz.
From a developmental growth standpoint, it was worrisome to see Podkolzin struggle to produce early on this season. In his draft season one year prior, he spent most of it slated as a top-five ranked prospect but eventually fell to the Canucks at the 10th spot of the draft. This slide was partially due to him bouncing around leagues and failing to put up trustworthy numbers.
It’s hard to blame the juvenile Russian forward. Earning a new coach’s trust and playing time is nearly impossible to do when being flung around several leagues like a yo-yo. Certainly, this was a factor for Podkolzin’s slow start to the 2019-20 season too.
Podkolzin averaged a mere nine shifts and 6:22 per game during his scoreless first 17 contests this year. Highlighted are a trio of games where Podkolzin played only one shift and under 50 seconds.
Podkolzin Breaks Out
It took a while for Podkolzin to gain the trust of the team’s head coach, Alexei Kudashov, but alas, it seems to be finally paying off. Kudashov explained:
“He is getting better and better, he plays some power play, some penalty killing, his defensive play I now trust him, he is better at the small details. I trust him in our own end, he also has the players trust, he is great in the dressing room. ”
Rick Dhaliwal, TSN 1040, 2/29/20
Subsequently, Podkolzin has seen his shifts and minutes per game increase to 16 shifts and 11:53 minutes respectively since Jan. 21. Perhaps, returning after delivering a silver medal as one of Russia’s top players at this year’s World Junior Championships was the turning point.
While it was relieving to see him start producing, what is even more impressive was the team’s success with Podkolzin thriving.
The team has won an astounding 93 percent of games since Podkolzin’s hot streak began, including 14 in a row and most recently two playoff victories. Before scoring his first point, the team still won an impressive 14 of 17, good enough for an 82 percent rate.
Without Podkolzin in the lineup, the team isn’t nearly as good – winning only 56 percent of 32 games.
This isn’t surprising because according to Iceberg Sports and Elite Prospects, he’s been solid for the entire year. Podkolzin has controlled 54.8 percent of possession, 73.1 percent of scoring chances and 69.3 percent of expected goals while on the ice. Not bad for a teenager playing in the second-best league in the world.
A large part of why Podkolzin caught the attention of Vancouver at the draft was because he brings so many other intangibles that aren’t necessarily on the score sheet. Ryan Biech explained to NHL.com:
“The Russian winger isn’t afraid to get in on the forecheck, make hits and grind along the boards. But [he] can really make an impact in transition using his speed and awareness to really push his opponents back.”
The points are a nice addition to his complete and physical package that still has room to grow, given that he’s an 18-year-old already listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.
It’s not surprising that many think he could be a top-six player very soon if not now. However, they’ll have to wait at least until after next year when his KHL contract expires.
Next year holds incredible potential for Podkolzin given his progression this year. With his coach’s trust, a full season of increased ice time and power-play opportunities, the sky is the limit for Podkolzin.