It was yet another devastating loss for the Vancouver Canucks in this past June’s draft lottery. Vancouver is not unfamiliar with losing draft lotteries. It is actually what they are best at. No team in the entire league has fallen more spots in the draft lottery than the Canucks since 2016. In 2019, it was no different, as Vancouver slipped from their expected ninth to the tenth spot.
Luckily for the Canucks, they have managed to select high-end players, like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, despite not drafting higher than fifth in recent years.
Six months ago, the Canucks selected Russian forward, Vasili Podkolzin, at 10th overall along with eight other players. Finally, enough time has passed where we can scope the various leagues in which they are playing and see how the 2019 prospects are doing.
Please Play Podkolzin
At first glance, Podkolzin has really disappointed thus far. He has no points in 14 games playing in Russia’s premier men’s league, the KHL. Upon further inspection, it becomes clear that the reason behind the lack of production is due to limited ice time.
Podkolzin averages only 5:30 of ice time, somehow an improvement from the 3:30 he played last year. In three of the games this year, he has played only one shift. He has been put in a checking role with less opportunity to grow and produce offensive statistics, a situation essential for highly-touted prospects.
His KHL team, SKA St. Petersburg, has no interest in developing young players who may eventually flee for the NHL. This has resulted in Podkolzin consistently being bounced from league to league.
More recently, Podkolzin has received second line minutes in the VHL, Russia’s American Hockey League equivalent, along with time in the MHL, strictly for U20 players. While his production in these leagues is improving, Podkolzin’s physical maturity is beyond these levels.
The Moscow native’s skill is better than his statistics suggest. For a good portion of last year, scouts had Podkolzin being drafted in the top-three. As Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino describes,
High character and off-the-ice compete combined with work ethic and skill can make for a complete package.Sam Cosentino, Sportnet
In this year’s Canada-Russia series, he continued to impress with his effort by winning battles despite not dominating the stat sheet. It is plays like his fending off of four QMJHL defenders that give Canucks fans optimism that there is more untapped goal-scoring potential.
In this same Canada-Russia game, Podkolzin won Russia’s player of the game despite only recording one assist, further suggesting his impact away from the stat sheet.
Considering Podkolzin played in last year’s World Junior Championship as a draft-eligible 17-year-old, look for him to play a more prominent role this year and prove some of his doubters wrong.
Another Skilled Swede
The Canucks have a very specific type they are attracted to. Typically, they prefer sky blue eyes and bright blonde hair. Occasionally fiery red hair, especially if they come in package deals. They must also hail from the Nordic country of Sweden.
No, I am not referring to Markus Naslund, Daniel and Henrik Sedin or Pettersson. If the Canucks were on Tinder, it is safe to say they have gotten a surplus of matches with their Scandinavian partners over the years.
Nils Hoglander had a tough time getting matches in this year’s draft, likely due to his diminutive size – something he could have lied about on his dating profile. Unfortunately, it does not work that way in professional sports.
The 5-foot-9 Swede was overlooked by 39 teams despite being projected as a first-round pick for the majority of the year. Luckily for the Canucks, they swiped right when he was available at 40, faster than you could say Rögle Bandyklubb, otherwise known as the Swedish Hockey League team Hoglander currently plays for.
Hoglander has fared well for Rögle BK as an 18-year-old playing in Sweden’s top men’s league, recording nine points in 19 games. This looks to be an improvement from his 14 points in 50 games in the SHL last year.
It makes sense for Hoglander to play against stronger and older men as that would be the main concern holding him back from playing professionally for the Canucks in North America. Plus, nobody can doubt his skill when he keeps scoring highlight-reel goals like he did in October.
If Hoglander does not pan out and reach his full potential, would anybody really be mad if the Canucks stuck him on the fourth line just so we can see one jaw-droppingly sensational goal like that for entertainment purposes?
Regardless, look for Hoglander to produce some more electrifying goals in this year’s World Junior’s as he will be playing down to players more his age.
Keppen Continues to Struggle
Flint Firebirds’ winger, Ethan Keppen, was another plummeting forward that the Canucks snatched in the fourth-round despite being projected as a second-round pick. Offensively, Keppen has regressed as he is only on pace to rack up 44 points compared to the 58 points, he scored in his draft year.
This is likely due to Flint improving from being a dismal team last year to a contender this year, with more forwards taking on bigger roles ahead of Keppen.
He still provides his junior team with hard forechecking, leadership and valuable penalty kill time in a league stacked with stars like Quinton Byfield and Connor McMichael.
Holy (Carson) Focht
It was disappointing for Canucks fans to discover neither Carson Focht nor fellow Calgary Hitman teammate, Jett Woo, would be playing on Canada’s WJC team.
Focht has had a great start to his WHL season, producing at a near point-per-game pace. However, Focht’s role projects to be a forechecking bottom-line guy, something team Canada may need.
Not every late round pick can be a top-line player so the Canucks should be ecstatic with Focht’s progression as a fifth-round steal.
Best of the Rest
The Canucks drafted five players in the final two rounds of the draft, the most successful so far are the final two picks of the seventh round, Aidan McDonough and Arvid Costmar.
McDonough logs power-play time and top-six minutes alongside Canucks’ prospect, Tyler Madden, with Northeastern University. His five power play goals lead the team much like Adam Gaudette did a few years back.
Costmar was not able to stick in Sweden’s top league like Hoglander did. However, he has torn up Sweden’s U20 league with 26 points in 17 games, good enough for fourth in league points per game.
All three of the Canucks’ sixth round picks have struggled in their respective leagues. Latvian goaltender, Arturs Silovs has posted subpar statistics with the Barrie Colts in the OHL, allowing more than three goals per game and saving less than 90 percent of shots.
Cornell University freshman, Jack Malone has found the back of the net only once in 10 games so far.
Finally, Karel Plasek was demoted from playing in the top Czech league after registering only four points in 22 games. However, look for Plasek to have a chance to turn his year around if he makes the Czech squad for the WJC.
Certainly, it is the most wonderful time of the year for NHL prospects as the WJC’s are right around the corner. Do not forget to track Podkolzin, Hoglander and Plasek as they battle for world supremacy. Tabs for the rest of the 2019 draft class should be kept too as it is always intriguing to see if one of them pans out and eventually contributes for the big squad in Vancouver one day.
I am a devout sports fanatic, Queen’s University grad, and writer. A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, I am very familiar with the sports scene in the North American Northwest.