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What Vasily Podkolzin’s New Deal Means for the Canucks

Vasily Podkolzin has signed a new two-year deal as the Vancouver Canucks are warming up for the playoffs. He may not have reached his full potential yet, but both sides remain optimistic – for good reason. The deal, according to CapFriendly, is for two years at just $1 million per season.

Preparing Vasily Podkolzin

Taken tenth overall in front of a home crowd in the 2019 draft, Podkolzin has yet to establish himself in the NHL. He was thrown immediately into the league in 2021-22, and though he produced a little he clearly wasn’t ready. So far the most memorable moment in his pro career is Stan Smyl‘s announcement.

So what is it the Canucks management sees in him? Or at least sees enough to ink him for multiple years? In short, it’s the same thing the team saw in drafting him – but with better control.

We’ve talked some about Podkolzin’s rocky history in Russia with his teams there. Getting out of that system helped, but starting off in the AHL might have been a better move than straight to the NHL on a struggling team. He might not be regarded as highly as he was five years ago, but his strengths then remain his strengths now. His development time has been all about applying them.

Beginner’s Blues

Vasily Podkolzin’s first season in North America wasn’t a bad one, exactly, but it wasn’t great. The expectation of a top-ten pick two years after his draft is that he’ll make an impact. For forwards, that impact is expected in his boxcar stats – scoring, penalties, plus-minus. He isn’t really that sort of player, being more about defence and forechecking than the whirligig style of draft compatriot Nils Höglander.

For Podkolzin to shine, he needs to know where his teammates are and how much to trust them. He’ll go through anyone to retrieve the puck, so long as he has someone to pass it to. Without that level of predictable structure, his own head can get in his way.

Unfortunately, he came to a wildly dysfunctional team about to jettison their coach and replace him with a much more player-friendly version. For a player new to the team – and continent – the freedom to improvise wasn’t a welcome one.

About Vasily Podkolzin’s Play

Getting 14 goals and 26 points in 79 games is decent for a rookie, but his play on the ice was lacking. His confidence was low, and while he didn’t play scared, it was plain his first concern was being scored against. That didn’t help him score, and he didn’t really have a place on the team. Minutes played veered wildly under Bruce Boudreau, putting Podkolzin in the AHL two months into the 2022-23 season.

He was brought back up with Rick Tocchet, giving the new coach time to look at the Canucks top prospect. Tocchet used him in a variety of spots, even as he did with the rest of his new team. As a result, Podkolzin played just 39 games in Vancouver, scoring just four times. It was decided to start the 22-year-old in Abbotsford for 2023-24.

This season in Abbotsford, he’s found his game. Again, Vasily Podkolzin isn’t about sky-high offence, though he has plenty of offensive touch. He didn’t blow the doors off in the AHL with 15 goals and 28 points in 44 games there. What he is, though, is a player that coach Jeremy Colliton can rely on in any situation. He’ll go over the boards up or down a goal at any time in the game.

And THAT’S what the Vancouver Canucks are looking for. His latest call-up was at the beginning of March, and he’s stuck ever since.

What’s To Come

Looking at his scoring, it’s easy to wonder why he’d stick with the big club. He barely plays 11 minutes a night and only has two assists. Yet here he is, lining up as a regular in the NHL instead of joining Abbotsford for their playoff run.

The change has come from the coaches. Instead of treating Podkolzin as a scoring bust, he’s used as any other young prospect starting out. He’s on the fourth line, taking that spot from veterans Nils Åman and Phil Di Giuseppe. His work rate – a favourite phrase of Tocchet’s – is as high as theirs, and if he does regain his scoring touch, his potential is far higher.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about finding unlikely heroes in unlikely moments. And Vasili Podkolzin just might be the Canucks’ secret weapon. Because there’s one thing to remember about his time in Russia: as much as his coaches limited his ice time during the regular season, they doubled it when the games mattered.

Even if his offence doesn’t emerge just yet, they have two more years to get it right.

Main photo by: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports


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