It’s the off-season in 2020, so Vancouver Canucks fans have been deeply concerned. In any other year, it would be over new free-agent signings and how they will stop the team from starting a half-dozen rookies next season. But so far Jim Benning has been quite reasonable, and most of the Canucks prospects aren’t ready to play yet. Obviously, this is very disappointing and yet one more disruption to fans’ usual schedule. Fortunately, a brief return to normal emerged when top prospect Vasili Podkolzin was sent to Russia’s equivalent of the AHL.
Let the panic resume!
Vasili Podkolzin Sent Down
The Canucks have had a few years of good prospect rankings, in part because of how high they’ve been drafting. They’ve also been very lucky, picking up Elias Pettersson fifth overall and Quinn Hughes seventh overall in their respective years. Add getting Podkolzin at tenth overall in 2019 to that list. Our own Ben Kerr had him ranked third overall in a top-heavy year, but NHL teams still have concerns about drafting Russians too high. There was some talk of Podkolzin signing on with the KHL beyond this year, letting him drop into Vancouver’s lap. Even the audience was surprised, given the relatively muted home-town response. One suspects Stan Smyl was just as surprised, but everyone seems happy about it a year later.
Except Canucks fans being happy about a prospect for longer than a year is too strange to consider. So news of his demotion last week is something of a relief for them. Finally, something going wrong that can be freely misinterpreted as needed!
Which is a long way of saying it’s not as bad as it looks, folks.
It’s important to mention that, right before the Karjala Cup started in Finland, Podzkolin was recalled to the KHL. Whether he remains there, or is again moved to the minors, is currently a mystery. Yet, either possibility has its perks.
Most simply, the KHL isn’t a development league. SKA Saint Petersburgh is a showcase team for the league, and they intend to keep it that way. They have two Gagarin Cups to their name in the past five years and were the first KHL team to average a five-digit attendance. That means young players are hard-pressed to get a lot of ice time. Yes, Podkolzin had a lot of ice time early in the season, but that was because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. As players returned, he was moved back down to his fourth-line role. With reduced ice time comes reduced opportunities to score. And if you don’t get results, you get sent down.
Podkolzin also made it known he would be leaving Russia when he turned down a contract extension. And when a young player has told you he won’t be there next year, why would you play him? It’s a professional league, and they’re going to dress the players who help them now. Any prospects they develop they want to keep, and reasonably enough. In the meantime, Podkolzin will get his chance to dominate in the VHL.
The Good News
There’s actually plenty of good news coming up for Canucks fans. Podkolzin is the captain for the upcoming Karjala Cup in Helsinki, November 5-8. Though it’s not an upper-tier competition, it’s not a U-20 tournament, either. This should be a nice challenge for a young Russian team and their 19-year old captain. The next tournament he plays in will be closer to his future team when he competes in the World Juniors in Edmonton. Until he has finished his contract in Russia, that’s all fans will see of Vasili Podkolzin. Come the 2021-22 season, though, he should be pushing to take one of the newly-available spots in Vancouver.
But… But… His Scoring!
Okay, you’re determined to make noise about his producing just one goal and four points in 19 KHL games. And he only got eight points in 30 KHL games his draft+1 year. Fine. You know who got five points in 18 KHL games in his draft+1 season? Some guy you’ve probably never heard of called Nikita Kucherov. So let’s give it a year in North America before the complaints about how “Podkolzin’s not scoring like Kucherov!” start rolling in.
Has a happy side note, 2020 Canucks sixth-round draft pick Dmitry Zlodeyev is also going to be in the Karjala Cup tournament, as is seventh-round pick Viktor Persson for Sweden. Any fan who wants to do a bit of amateur scouting should get their chance. Granted, Zlodeyev didn’t dress in Russia’s 6-2 win over Finland, but Podkolzin’s two assists must be a relief. What will be worth watching is where Podkolzin plays once this tournament ends. World Juniors – and Karjala Cup – team coach Igor Larionov likely has a say. “The Professor” is a legend, and his words carry weight in the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. Would he rather the young star play 20 minutes in the VHL or 10 in the KHL?
For now, Canucks fans, just enjoy what you got. Vasili Podkolzin is one of the best young prospects in the world in the run-up to joining his NHL club. He’ll be fine.