The 2019 NHL Entry Draft was important for Vasily Podkolzin. The Russian forward was predicted to be a top-five pick, but his approach to the draft was more level-headed than some expected. Podkolzin headed to Vancouver to attend the draft and spoke regularly to the media through an interpreter, repeatedly saying that he did not care who chose him.
He surprised NHL analysts when he was not selected in the top five. The Vancouver Canucks, who had the tenth-overall pick, chose Podkolzin in what was considered a major steal. Becoming a Canuck was even more special because Podkolzin had been drafted at Rogers Arena. This was not the first time that he had stepped foot in the arena; he had played in Vancouver during the 2019 World Junior Championships and was part of the bronze medal-winning team.
Although he relished the chance to play in North America, the 18-year-old returned to Russia to continue playing for Saint Petersburg in the KHL and transition to the NHL over the next two years. He was expected to join the Canucks before the 2020-21 season, and many Canucks fans were anxious to see him play in Vancouver.
However, a commitment to the Russian national team and the KHL season may prevent him from making his NHL debut this season. He has struggled to get regular ice time in the KHL, so playing for his country is a good way for him to showcase his talent.
World Juniors Helped Podkolzin To Mature
Podkolzin has played in two WJCs for Russia and the 2018 Hlinka Cup. He takes great pride in playing for his country and was rewarded for his contribution by being named captain ahead of the 2021 World Juniors in Edmonton. Head coach Igor Larionov had high expectations for Podkolzin and said that he would “lead the way for the Russian Junior team.” Canucks fans paid close attention.
Russia earned their most dominant win of the WJC against Austria, and Podkolzin showed off his offensive skill set and leadership. He scored twice and had one assist in the first period to help Russia to a 7-1 win. Team Russia finished in fourth place, and Podkolzin had two goals and two assists in the tournament. He returned to Saint Petersburg for the rest of the KHL season.
Podkolzin showed great maturity and composure as a captain in that tournament, talking to his teammates during intermissions and reiterating his coach’s game plan on the ice. Podkolzin continued to lead his team in the final stages of the Euro Hockey Tour, which was the team’s final preparations for the Olympics.
Canucks Should Be Excited About Podkolzin
The Euro Hockey Tour was another big step for Podkolzin. He was named an assistant captain and led the tournament in scoring with eight points (two goals, six assists). His statistics helped the national team to win the Tour after they defeated the Czech Republic 7-4, to clinch Russia’s ninth title in 17 years. Podkolzin’s international play led to more playing time in the KHL.
A Hlinka Cup, two World Juniors, and the Euro Hockey Tour have been more important to Podkolzin’s development than playing the KHL. He played on the top line as a member of the Russian national team and used that role to his advantage. Podkolzin showed his teammates respect him and that he can execute a game plan. These two qualities have given him more opportunities, especially with Saint Petersburg, and he is gradually working his way up to the top line. The playoffs will be a last push for Podkolzin to reassure the Canucks that he can live up to the hype.
He needed to focus on playing for his country before he could consider moving to Vancouver. It was the right decision, as he led his team in scoring at two different tournaments and is receiving more playing time at the club level. Podkolzin is developing the mental toughness and the skills needed to succeed in the NHL thanks to his time spent with the national team, and he will step into the NHL with greater confidence in his ability.