Vasily Podkolzin must be getting tired of fighting for ice time. Over the course of his time in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with SKA St. Petersburg, it didn’t matter how well he played, he still got stapled to the bench for most of the game by head coach Valeri Bragin. The same thing is happening so far with the Vancouver Canucks and head coach Travis Green, and it has to stop.
After being a healthy scratch in two games versus the Chicago Blackhawks and Seattle Kraken, Podkolzin got a season-low 6:22 against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and 10:42 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, even though he started on a line with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. If he’s going to be treated like a fourth-line grinder, then he would be better off playing over 20 minutes in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Abbotsford Canucks.
Podkolzin’s Skill Is Wasted In Limited Ice Time
Podkolzin has loads of skill that is being wasted in under 10 minutes of ice time. No wonder he’s struggling to generate offence. He plays a shift, and then sits for minutes on end as another player takes his spot on the line he started the game with. If he starts with Boeser and Miller, he should be on every rotation with them and finish the game with around the same ice time as his linemates. How does Green expect him to get into a rhythm if he doesn’t get a regular shift?
Everyone was excited when they saw Podkolzin in the top six on Tuesday. That excitement quickly faded as the game went on as Green juggled the lines to reunite his struggling Lotto Line. Podkolzin was exiled to the third and fourth lines with Alex Chiasson, Juho Lammikko, Matthew Highmore, and Justin Bailey, where he barely hit the ice for the rest of the game.
Adding Podkolzin to the Canucks roster was supposed to give Green more options for his top nine, not less. His speed, size, and overall skillset are assets that could turn the tide in a game. Except when the Canucks are trailing, what does Green do? He staples him to the bench and double-shifts players that don’t have any history of offence in Bailey, Highmore, and Lammikko. No offense to them, but Podkolzin has a better chance at generating goals than those three.
Why Isn’t Podkolzin on the Canucks’ Second Power Play Unit?
This has been a question of mine ever since the Canucks started the season. In a piece I wrote in the offseason, I talked about a potential second unit of Podkolzin, Bo Horvat, Conor Garland, Nils Hoglander, and Jack Rathbone. Three of those players make up the unit right now, but Podkolzin is glaringly absent from the festivities. Instead, assistant coach Jason King has taken Boeser off the first unit and used Chiasson in his place. Granted, Chiasson has two power play goals, but I still don’t think his presence makes the power play any more dangerous than last season.
Related: Canucks Power Play Needs a Shakeup
Podkolzin, on the other hand, would throw a wrinkle into a power play that desperately needs a new look. His big body, hand-eye coordination, puck retrieval skills, and playmaking from the goal line are suited for the man advantage. Not to mention, he also has a wicked wrist shot that he could unleash from the bumper position ala Horvat. Basically what I am saying is, only good can come out of putting him on the power play.
Canucks Need to Put Podkolzin in a Position To Succeed
It may look like the Green is putting Podkolzin in a good spot by placing him on a line with Miller and Boeser. In reality, it’s just an illusion, because the line juggling starts almost immediately. When his ice time reads under 10 minutes, it’s clear he’s not playing in the top six consistently.
The Canucks need to give him more ice time and opportunities offensively. Whether it be in the form of the power play, penalty kill, or more 5-on-5 minutes, he needs to get into a rhythm in order to succeed. Play him more with the likes of Miller, Boeser, Hoglander, Garland, and Elias Pettersson not just for five minutes, but for 15-20. What’s the worst that could happen? His potential in the NHL is too large and his entry-level contract is too short to waste playing him the minutes of a fourth-liner that has no skill offensively.
If Green and the coaching staff are unwilling to take the leap, then, for the sake of Podkolzin’s development, the Canucks should send him to Abbotsford. Playing significant minutes on the top line and the power play should allow him to rack up the points and gain some confidence in his game. All I know is, playing six minutes in the NHL is not enough for the man that could potentially be a lethal power forward in the NHL one day, if developed properly.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.