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Young Vancouver Canucks Forward Feels the Pressure

Canucks final stretch

This is a high-pressure, make-or-break year coming up for Vasily Podkolzin. There is space for him to make his mark with the Vancouver Canucks, and they are going to give him every chance to take it. The good news is, he will.

Vasily Podkolzin Signs Up and Lines Up

There is always more pressure on a higher draft pick to perform than on players selected lower. That’s just the way of things, fairly or not. But there would have been even more pressure on Podkolzin if the team didn’t have their successful run in 2023-24. Instead of needing him to be a second-line winger immediately, the Canucks can seat him properly. He knows he’ll be paid for his work with the two-year, one-way deal he signed in April. And it’s not like he’s afraid of work. The coaching staff of two teams love him for it. At just $1 million per season, Vancouver will be content for him to earn his way up the lineup slowly. There’s every reason for them to have confidence in Podkolzin’s progress. But with their lack of scoring wingers, they’d love it if it wasn’t too slowly…

Vasily “Pressure” Podkolzin and Off-Ice Demands

The irony is that for Vasily Podkolzin, “pressure” should be his middle name by now. His time in Russia was marked by pressure from his coaches, team, and league to sign an extension. His first call-up to the KHL was as a 17-year-old. That’s the same season he got drafted by the Canucks 10th overall, and it’s not a coincidence. SKA St.Petersburgh knew what they had in their system.

Unfortunately for them, Podkolzin knew what he wanted. He made no bones about leaving for the NHL when his contract expired. For the next two seasons, he was shuttled up and down from the KHL to the minors to the junior ranks. With the KHL squad, any mistakes on the ice resulted in a benching, leaving him with plenty of sub-5-minute games. It was an atrocious environment to develop skills in, lacking consistency and time. His work ethic is phenomenal, though, and his talent showed through at the World Junior Championships and other international play. And, funnily enough, whenever his KHL team made the playoffs. Suddenly those supposedly bench-able mistakes were overlooked and his ice time doubled or more. Weird, that.

On-Ice Ability

When Podkolzin finally reached North America, he went straight into the NHL. Vancouver used him as a fourth-line player, and he focused on not making mistakes. That was a mistake on the Canucks part, but his age, size, and play style were all sorely needed. He had a decent year, scoring 14 goals and 26 points in 79 games. But some time in the AHL letting him be a top-line scorer would have been a better move.

He started 2022-23 in Vancouver in the same spot, trying to mix his usual aggressive pursuit game with zero mistakes. It’s a paradox, and he went to the AHL in November to find his KHL-VHL-MHL scoring touch. He came back up to Vancouver so new coach Rick Tocchet could get a look and remained for the rest of the year.

Last season he was called up late, sticking with the team for their late push. Though his scoring hasn’t been found at the NHL level yet, fans got a glimpse of what Podkolzin can be. He loves getting the puck, and takes it as a deep, personal insult when the other team has it. He has decent speed, but more than that he knows where to go to disrupt plays with a hit or his stick.

At his best, Vasily Podkolzin is a heavy-pressure possession monster. He’s very refined at keeping the puck once he has it but needs to regain his confidence in his scoring ability. He won’t be a consistent 40-goal winger but should be a rock-solid second-line player. Even if he falls short of that goal, a spot in the middle-six with time on special teams is as low as he’ll fall. Two years at $1 million each? That is the very definition of a zero-risk deal.

Expectations, Not Pressure

That goes both ways, and everyone involved knows it. Podkolzin is a young father and wants to establish himself for a long professional career. He’s never been reckless, but there’s a time to push for his own opportunities, and it’s now. He has all the elements of the player a coach can put out in any situation but needs a bit more selfishness. One shot per game is not going to do it.

The Canucks need players to step up in 2024-25, especially on the wing. With his contract set so low, the team is encouraged to keep him in their lineup. His job is to make sure they don’t regret it. If he can add some finish, there are spaces waiting for him beside J.T. Miller or Elias Pettersson. Or, if the team goes that way, Elias Lindholm.

Why The Canucks Must Sign Free Agent Forward

One great thing about last season’s Canucks, Podkolzin can take inspiration from it. If he needs to see what a late bloomer can do, Dakota Joshua is right there. Joshua is six years older than the Russian and looking for his first big payout after career-high scoring in 2023-24. Podkolzin has the talent to reach that level – and beyond – even sooner. And he has the next two years to prove it.

Main photo: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports



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